A federal judge has approved a plan to revamp the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).
The troubled department has seen much turnover in leadership, being on its ninth director in five years. The plan to overhaul DCFS calls for a complete retraining of staff and leadership, placing more youths into permanent homes, and increasing access to community-based mental health services.
The agency is also under fire for reports that wards of the state were left in shelters and psychiatric facilities for extended periods of time, in some cases much beyond what was medically needed.
"Meanwhile, the children are suffering," Benjamin Wolf, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. "I talked to a child who was trapped in a psychiatric hospital, and he was just weeping because he felt abandoned by everybody. What can you say? He has been abandoned. Like a shelter, it's a miserable place to spend a big chunk of your childhood."
The department seeks to address the problem by reducing the number of youths staying in residential and other institutionalized facilities.
Implementation of the plan to revamp DCFS began six months ago, according to the department's chief, and will continue with Wednesday's federal approval.
"The court approved the implementation plan today, but we actually began implementing the plan six months ago and are seeing some progress already," DCFS Director George Sheldon said in an emailed statement. "There is still much to do."