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*** UPDATED x1 *** DCFS refuses to stop shackling children

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* ACLU IL yesterday…

Earlier today at a meeting of the Illinois House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee, Carol Melton of the Department of Children and Family Services – under questioning by Committee members – refused to guarantee that DCFS would not shackle children in their care. The following can be attributed to Heidi Dalenberg, Director of the Institutional Reform Project at the ACLU of Illinois:

The Department must clear up any confusion immediately, with no further delay. DCFS made a promise late last year to the children in their care, to the ACLU as attorneys for those children and to a federal court judge that they would not shackle children going forward. When that promise was broken earlier this month, the promise was renewed. We are puzzled, and angry, to see this hedging in Committee today.

No child in the care of DCFS should be shackled. It is not hard. Just stop doing it.

* From the hearing

Rep. Keith Sommer (R-Morton) wanted to know why DCFS is still shackling children, even though it is against their current policy.

“It’s pretty basic. I think everyone heard it - you’re still shackling. Why,” Sommer asked. “How do you defend it? Tell members of the committee and the people of the state of Illinois how you defend it.”

“I’m not going to do that,” said DCFS Legal Counsel Carol Melton. “I can tell you that when it came to the administration’s attention last week, we took immediate action and stopped it - terminated a contract for cause, self-reported the incident - so I’m not going to defend it.”

“Can you guarantee me there won’t be any children shackled moving forward,” asked Sommer.

“I don’t know how you expect me to answer that question. I can tell you that our General Counsel is working very closely with the ACLU to make sure that we are complying with the B-H consent decree. And we’re making sure that we are acting appropriately and making sure anytime that there’s a problem that we take action to address it,” Melton explained.

* From the Cook County Public Guardian…

Marc Smith, Director
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Re: DCFS Shackling Children

Dear Director Smith:

I was shocked to hear that, today, your agency testified before an Illinois House Committee that you cannot assure that DCFS will follow its own policies, the law, and the constitution, all of which preclude shackling of children.

Today the Illinois House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee conducted a hearing on the so-called shackling bill, HB 3969. Carol Melton, DCFS’s Asst. Deputy General Counsel and Ethics Officer, testified for DCFS. When Representative Keith Sommer asked Melton if DCFS can assure the committee that no more kids will be shackled between now and until the bill moves forward, Melton responded to the effect, I can’t tell you that.

In other words, most remarkably, DCFS can’t say it won’t break the law, the constitution, and its own newly-promulgated policies prohibiting shackling of children. DCFS can’t say it won’t continue to trample on children’s civil rights. The only positive takeaway is that your attorney and ethics officer testified honestly.

I certainly hope that we won’t continue to see children shackled.

Sincerely,

Charles P. Golbert
Public Guardian

*** UPDATE *** Letter from DCFS Director Marc Smith…

Dear Mr. Golbert,

We share your concerns regarding the safety and welfare of our children. As you know, the express policy of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services states that “[u]nder no circumstances shall any agent or employee of [DCFS] any agent or employee of any provider, or any transportation company designated to transport youth in DCFS care use handcuffs and/or shackles for transporting any youth in DCFS care.” To be clear, DCFS will do everything it can to ensure that – consistent with its express policy – neither handcuffs nor shackles are used to transport any youth in DCFS care.

Last week, after Jim Stewart Transportation LLC inappropriately used leg restraints to transport a youth in DCFS care, DCFS immediately terminated its contract with Jim Stewart Transportation LLC and conducted a training with DCFS leadership regarding the required secured transport protocol. DCFS is working diligently to identify appropriate vendors to securely transport youth in DCFS care when necessary and appropriate and continues to work collaboratively with the ACLU of Illinois regarding potential revisions to its protocol.

We appreciate your continued commitment to collaborating with DCFS to better serve the youth in our care.

Regards,
Marc D. Smith

- Posted by Rich Miller        

14 Comments
  1. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 10:44 am:

    === In other words, most remarkably, DCFS can’t say it won’t break the law, the constitution, and its own newly-promulgated policies prohibiting shackling of children.===

    Governors own.

    This governor can’t be one to point fingers at those shackling children elsewhere when his administration can’t guarantee it won’t stop doing the same.

    It’s getting worse. It’s not getting better. You can’t say it’s getting better and then not be able to categorically state the practice is at an end.

    There is no half way. Do it, stop it, enough.


  2. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:01 am:

    ===“Can you guarantee me there won’t be any children shackled moving forward,” asked Sommer.===

    I don’t know how one would expect a state agency to be able to guarantee that the vendors that have signed contracts with them will actually follow the terms of the contract.

    ===Governors own.===

    They do, but DCFS needs funding and the entities it contracted with prior to the Rauner administration were decimated.

    Governors own, but I don’ think we’ve have the billions of dollars laying around that DCFS desperately needs to have injected into it.

    Governors own, but we’re the ones who are responsible for what has happened with DCFS over the last several decades.


  3. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    === They do, but===

    No but.

    They can guarantee that shackling will end, or not.

    The funding, it’s budget, it’s mission, no simple solution.


  4. - Chain Gang - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:13 am:

    Why is Marc D Smith still acting director of DCFS?

    He’s had a year, it is not working, we’ve given him $50M and it’s still not working, he’s asking for $150M more and it still will not work.

    Money cannot fix incompetence, and this senior staff is not up to the task. Granted it is a big task, but they are not up for it.

    Keith Sommer is a senior downstate Republican who wants to give DCFS more money, and we cannot even meet his standards for basic civil rights.


  5. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:28 am:

    If shackling is still occurs then I don’t think it is as much on the vendors as on DCFS


  6. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:35 am:

    ===They can guarantee that shackling will end, or not.===

    Asking an attorney under oath to state with absolute certainty in a public hearing that a public agency or it’s contracted vendors will not violate the law is a heavy burden to meet.

    There is zero ability for an employee of that agency, of the governor’s office, or even the governor themselves to state with absolute certainty that DCFS or it’s vendors will never shackle another kid again.

    The kid is already not supposed to be shackled. They are already doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. Governors can promise consequences to violating the law, they can’t promise that private parties in their employment will not violate the law with any amount of certainty.

    Governor’s own, but making a guarantee when there no mechanism to create absolute or near absolute certainty isn’t ownership.

    Being sincere and straight forward in a public hearing is better than misleading a legislator — and even the legislature can’t guarantee that legislators are going to follow the law.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to ask any administration to make a promise on something where they can’t actually control the behavior, just the consequence of that behavior.


  7. - Chain Gang - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    === They do, but ===

    Goodness sakes, Candy.

    Marc Smith contracted with a company that specializes in shackling people for transport and then acted surprised they shackle people.

    Then he continued to contract with them to provide transport services in vehicles that have been modified to shackle people.

    This is not one of those unforseeable tragedies. DCFS contracts out 85 percent of its services. Managing and monitoring contracts to make sure they are followed is a core job skill at DCFS.

    They are simply not up to the task. Not impossible, just impossible for them.

    Everyone should FOIA their contract compliance data to see for themselves.


  8. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:42 am:

    === Asking an attorney under oath to state with absolute certainty in a public hearing that a public agency or it’s contracted vendors will not violate the law is a heavy burden to meet.===

    Not one person said being governor was going to be easy…

    “Meh, it happens”

    Not good enough. Nope.


  9. - dbk - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 11:59 am:

    –They are simply not up to the task. Not impossible, just impossible for them.–

    True, and this is one reason why that $150 million or so, while necessary, is not sufficient to heal what ails DCFS.

    When you contract out 85% of services to private providers, you’re doing things on the cheap, that’s all there is to it. Doing things on the cheap has consequences.

    DCFS fired the provider which shackled children - what can they do to guarantee it will never happen again?

    Well, they could stop working with private vendors.

    But that would cost a lot more than $150 million.


  10. - Kyle Hillman - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 12:30 pm:

    Someone at DCFS had to sign off on the last shackle transport. Someone at DCFS will have to sign off on future shackle transport. The Rep. wasn’t asking the witness to be a fortune teller, he was asking if DCFS can follow the law. That answer was infuriatingly bad.

    The very premise that we have to advocate for a law to keep the department, charged with protecting our children, to stop shackling traumatized children - reflects the level in which the leadership of this department has become morally bankrupt.


  11. - Almost retired - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 3:03 pm:

    I agree and support Candy’s last statement. The attorney told the realistic truth. It is impossible to guarantee but not impossible to put every effort into making it better. DCFS managed the contract-they ended the contract.


  12. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 3:24 pm:

    ===realistic truth===

    Tell that to the kids.

    “We’ll do our best” isn’t leadership, forcing yourself and the administration to be better than “we’ll do our best”…


  13. - Klaus von Bülow - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 3:31 pm:

    Did the DCFS Director or his deputies testify if not why is it necessary for counsel to speak?


  14. - Anyone Remember - Wednesday, Feb 19, 20 @ 7:07 pm:

    “Marc Smith contracted with a company … .”
    Actually, no. All contracts have to be approved by SPOs. Plenty of blame to go around here. Instead of playing “Pin the tail on the goat” how about we address the hollowing out of DCFS?


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