* 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.
Charles P. Golbert
*** 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.
Marc D. Smith