A county public guardian in Illinois is suing the state's Department of Children and Family Services over what it contends is the "immense harm" the agency is doing to mentally ill foster children that are kept in psychiatric hospitals beyond their medical discharge dates.
The federal lawsuit that was filed by Cook County's public guardian after reports by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois about the issue contends that repeated budget cuts for appropriate treatment facilities and foster care worsens the conditions of the children's lives and that keeping them so long at the psychiatric hospitals is "inhumane" and costs taxpayers more than $125,000 a month.
DCFS spokesman Neil Skene tells the Tribune that finding placements for youths with severe behavioral and mental health needs a "very complex challenge."
Here is a full statement from the agency:
"The lawsuit announced today has not yet been served on DCFS. We have no comment on anything that might be in it. We do want to address the complex challenge of youth with severe needs in behavioral and mental health.
“Beyond medical necessity” is an insurance term and means that Medicaid will no longer pay for psychiatric hospitalization. Most people understand that denial of insurance coverage and medical need are two different things. A cutoff of Medicaid coverage for psychiatric hospitalization is not the same as a treating physician’s decision about readiness for discharge.
Many of the youths’ behaviors, including fire-setting and self-harm, lead to rejections of admission by private residential providers and foster parents concerned about risk from these youth even after discharge from psychiatric hospitals. Some of the youth were turned away by their own families as a result of their behaviors. In those instances, DCFS is asked to take custody and become responsible for their care.
The availability of community resources and facilities to handle complex behavioral and physical health needs of children and teenagers is a serious need in Illinois. This is a decades-long problem in Illinois that has now fallen to the current leadership of DCFS. We are at the deep end of a challenge within the health care system. Finding the right placement for each youth is a very complex challenge.
DCFS continues to build additional services for special needs, with $20 million in new service capacity contracted in the past year. We are also working to build services that reduce the need for psychiatric hospitalization.
Rebuilding the capacity of the mental health system will require more than a lawsuit.