Illinois Children Being Held in Psychiatric Hospitals Longer than Necessary
State Senator Julie Morrison, a Democrat from Deerfield, Illinois, called for a public hearing after an investigation showed children in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are being left in psychiatric hospitals after their doctors have indicated they are ready for release, and are staying there much longer than necessary.
The investigation found that in two years, between 2015 and 2017, children spent more than 27,000 days stuck in psychiatric hospitals beyond what was necessary instead of being released to residential treatment centers or foster homes, and the number of psychiatric admissions beyond medical necessity has skyrocketed from 88 in 2014 to 301 in 2017.
“I think they’re going to come out more damaged and more difficult to treat by leaving them in for extended periods of time beyond medical necessity,” Morrison said. “We’re hurting these children.”
Morrison said she plans to schedule the hearing in the coming months in front of the Senate Human Services Committee and expects DCFS to provide lawmakers with detailed information and statistics on the children being held beyond what is required.
“I know this is a heavy lift,” Morrison said. “I know this can be costly. But you’re losing children in the system that we’re supposed to be protecting. I do think we’re causing more harm rather than putting them on the right path.”
The investigation found that DCFS spent nearly $7 million over the past three years on psychiatric hospitalizations of patients as young as four which weren’t within reason. During the same time, close to 30 percent of all hospitalized children in the department’s care were held after treatment was no longer necessary.
The children spent an average of 64 days in psychiatric hospitals, which is approximately six times the national average, and the extended hospitalizations, according to the state’s doctors, often caused children to get worse emotionally and behaviorally, miss developmental milestones, and fall behind in school.
“It’s absolutely atrocious,” state Senator Heather Steans, a Democrat, said of the findings. “These are locked-in facilities. These kids don’t even get to go outside. They should be getting placed without having to reach beyond medical necessity.”
Steans said DCFS officials did not have tangible solutions when asked about moving children who were left in psychiatric hospitals, and Illinois law requires that the department put children in “the least restrictive (most family-like) setting” possible.
Beverly Walker was named acting director of the Illinois DCFS in 2017 and stated the organization is addressing the problem, but the needs time to implement solutions.
Neil Skene, special assistant to Walker, said the hearing “will be an opportunity to increase legislators’ understanding of this challenge and to describe what we at DCFS are doing to develop the services young people need to avoid or shorten psychiatric hospitalization.”
Charles Golbert, the Cook County acting public guardian, said the public hearing will be a way to “call attention and get answers to this problem that has been festering now for years.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which monitors DCFS as part of a federal consent decree said it is the agency’s “legal obligation to address this problem, not to excuse the harm it is inflicting on these youth because it is hard to care for them.”