Class Action Suit Hits DCFS for Imprisoning Children in Psychiatric Hospitals

State cutbacks unjustly forced numerous youth into locked psych wards, causing many to relapse and costing Illinois millions of dollars

Acting Cook County Public Guardian Leads Class Action Suit Against DCFS

CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) today was hit with a federal class action lawsuit for locking youth in psychiatric hospitals “long past the time that their treatment required them to be confined… Upon being medically cleared for discharge, instead of going to an appropriate facility, the Defendants forced the children to remain in locked psychiatric wards, causing immense harm.”

While locked up, the children received no formal education, were largely kept indoors, and had little if any opportunity to interact with family members and friends. The prolonged confinement is detrimental to kids’ mental health, making them feel like they have been abandoned while subjecting them to dangerous and frightening conditions.

“The first rule of health care is ‘do no harm,’ yet the State of Illinois and its child welfare agency have made a mockery of that precept,” said Charles Golbert, acting Cook County Public Guardian and leader of the class action suit. “The harm to these youth that DCFS is committing by locking them up long after they’ve completed their courses of treatment is incalculable. It’s an abject moral and human rights failure.”

Today’s suit charges not only that state officials have known of the problem for decades, but have actively worsened it by repeatedly cutting budgets for appropriate treatment facilities and foster homes. Tragically, this practice not only violates vulnerable children’s rights, it also costs Illinois millions of dollars – every month DCFS is wasting over $125,000 to lock children in psychiatric wards where they are not supposed to be.

Since the 1980s, Golbert and every one of his predecessors at the Cook County Public Guardian’s office have complained to DCFS and in federal court about children being locked in psychiatric wards long after they should have been discharged. Although the federal court entered a consent decree 27 years ago requiring DCFS to not hospitalize children longer than medically necessary, DCFS’s unconstitutional practice remains and has actually become much more prevalent.

Golbert and the youth are represented by Michael Kanovitz, Russell Ainsworth, Julie Goodwin and Adair Crosley of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Golbert is partnering with Loevy & Loevy to obtain justice for the affected children.

Loevy & Loevy has previously used class action suits to force significant reforms in favor of the rights of jailed people in Illinois. In Young v. Cook County, it forced an end to gratuitously humiliating strip searches at Cook County Jail. In Dunn v. Chicago, it forced the City of Chicago to ensure that temperatures are kept at reasonably humane levels and that prisoners can sleep on rudimentary mattresses rather than cold concrete ledges.

Mr. Golbert and his attorneys will speak about their suit at an 11:30 a.m. press conference today at Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, 311 N. Aberdeen Street, 3rd floor, Chicago. A copy of today’s suit, Charles Golbert, et al., v. Beverly J. Walker, et al., No. 1:18-cv-08176, is available here.

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