A year and a half into the Covid-19 Pandemic, the existing problems with Illinois’ child welfare system have worsened. In April 2020, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received only 47% of the calls it did in April 2019. This drop in calls was largely attributed to the fact that children were confined to homes and not in as close contact with teachers, police officers, medical professionals, and other mandated reporters who would typically report problems to DCFS. Moreover, last March was the first time national abuse hotlines received a majority of calls from minors reporting on their own behalf. The drop in reports is a worrying trend, according to experts. About 80% of child sexual abuse cases occur without any witnesses. With many children still confined to their homes, the number of unreported abuses is likely to be shockingly high. Zoom provides some insight for teachers and medical professionals, but it does not always show the full picture of a child’s behavior. Families themselves have been going to police stations to report abuse.
While the number of reports has gone down, the number of children in state custody has gone up. By August 31, 2021, there were 21,291 children in state custody. [View the Report Here]. Within the first two weeks of 2021, six children, most infants, died while at home with their families. DCFS does not have the capacity to house all the children in its care safely. According to a Chicago Tribune investigation, youth in the largest state-funded residential homes were routinely abused, raped, and drawn into prostitution. There is a huge deficit of beds in the child welfare system after DCFS cut over 500 beds and never replaced them. The situation is further exacerbated by children being left in psych wards long after a doctor has discharged them. Between July 2019 and June 2020, over 300 children were kept in psych facilities after discharge, most for an average of two extra months.
“It’s just outrageous, and it’s a kid’s life,” said Charles Golbert, the Cook County public guardian. “You can’t steal months from a kid’s life. They’re supposed to be learning in school, socializing.” Charles Golbert has filed a class action lawsuit against DCFS and its systematic failures, hoping to make change through litigation. Read more here.