A lawsuit claims the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and Chicago Lakeshore Hospital “turned a blind eye” to sexual and physical abuse inflicted upon children at the psychiatric hospital.
The 16-count suit, filed in federal court Tuesday by Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert, lists DCFS overseers as well as former Lakeshore administrators and nurses among its defendants. Lakeshore’s parent company, Signature Healthcare Services, LLC, is also included as a defendant.
It comes over a year after the alleged abuse was brought to light by a ProPublica investigation. In December 2018, the federal government slashed their funding to the Uptown hospital and DCFS was forced to relocate the children who were placed there, according to the suit.
In the 40-page lawsuit, Golbert testifies on behalf of several minors who were “subjected to or witnessed unspeakable acts of sexual abuse by staff and peers” in 2017 and 2018.
One example that Golbert sets forth details an alleged incident in which a nurse showed lesbian pornography to a 14-year-old girl before repeatedly sexually assaulting her. The nurse allegedly allowed the girl and others to fill out their own medical paperwork and the “confidential and highly-sensitive paperwork of other patients,”as well as use her vaping device.
The lawsuit notes that the nurse was soon after charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery for allegedly stabbing a housemate in the face with a dental tool. Cook County court records show that the nurse was released on $6,000 bond in March for those charges.
The 14-year-old eventually “escaped” from the hospital, along with a number of other juveniles. The children were missing for months, according to the lawsuit, because the Lakeshore staff and administration attempted to cover it up rather than report it.
In another incident of sexual assault at the hands of staff, the suit alleges that a different Lakeshore employee went into a 12-year-old girl’s room, forced her hand on his genitals and touched her breasts. He also allegedly made a series of sexually inappropriate comments towards the girl and another girl in DCFS care, who was 16.
The suit also details multiple instances of sexual and physical abuse inflicted upon children in DCFS care by other children. In one such case, a 7-year-old boy was forced to perform oral sex on his older roommate.
Other examples of abuse include the forced or coerced usage of powerful sedatives on the children, the lawsuit states.
According to Golbert’s suit, DCFS ignored the rampant abuse going on at Lakeshore because it was the only psychiatric hospital in the area that would accept their wards. Many of the children who were abused had already completed their treatment, but remained at the hospital because they had nowhere else to go.
“DCFS had worn out its welcome at other Chicagoland psychiatric hospitals due to the State of Illinois’ failure to make timely payments to vendors, and DCFS’ historic inability to place children in a less restrictive setting once they completed their psychiatric treatment,” the lawsuit states.
To this end, when Lakeshore employees refused or failed to provide DCFS investigators with video footage that could have been used as corroboration, the investigators allegedly “treated the missing videos as evidence that the complained of incident did not happen because there was no corroborating evidence.”
Golbert accuses both parties of trying to cover up the accusations, including attempts by Lakeshore to alter paperwork and video footage. Once the reports surfaced, DCFS allegedly reassigned the investigations of abuse to a new investigator, who deemed them all “unfounded.” The lawsuit states that the investigators who were previously working on these cases had planned to “indicate” several of them, meaning that there is credible evidence to corroborate the accusations.
The suit claims that the children in DCFS care continue to suffer physically and emotionally as a result of the alleged abuse, and requests that the defendants pay damages and fees to the children.
“When youth enter the DCFS system they frequently have already experienced severe trauma and are among our area’s most vulnerable residents,” Golbert said. “But rather than providing these young children the focused care they deserved, DCFS sent them to Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, knowing they would not be safe. It shocks the conscience that Illinois officials would treat our youth this way.”
In a statement, a DCFS representative said it “is committed to protecting the children of Illinois and providing the best possible services to the children in our care.”
“We take seriously any allegations of abuse and have not allowed children to be placed at Lakeshore Hospital since 2018. Prior administrations have hollowed out DCFS with significant reductions in funding and staffing. We are reversing course with the support of the Pritzker administration. With additional resources from the governor’s budget, DCFS has hired more than 300 additional staff since April and begun to make dramatic improvements to overcome the challenges that have plagued the department for decades,” according to the statement.
Representatives for Lakeshore Hospital did not return a request for comment Wednesday morning.