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Fewer than 40 emergency shelter beds available for foster kids statewide

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services sign (Screenshot of WICS file video)
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services sign (Screenshot of WICS file video)
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We're taking a closer look at why hundreds of children are sleeping in offices or emergency shelters for weeks and months at a time.

Advocates say it leads back to a shortage of places for kids to go.

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) reports a sharp decrease in beds in recent years, and they're still working to recover.

Advocates say the numbers haven't been adding up for years now.

Over a thousand children came into state custody last year, and more are expected this year, but there's less than 40 emergency shelter beds available in the entire state.

When children come into DCFS care, they need a place to go, and the agency has four main options:

  • Emergency shelter - short term stays
  • Residential facility - group home setting, longer term
  • Specialized foster home - foster home setting with quick access to community resources and medical care, longer term
  • Foster home - traditional foster home setting, family-like environment, longer term

The issue is, there's a shortage of all of them.

DCFS Director Marc Smith admitted it to lawmakers in a hearing last week.

"Over a number of years, shelter beds, residential beds, and foster homes serving DCFS youth in care have dramatically declined," Smith reported.

Charles Golbert represents thousands of children vying for a spot at these facilities.

He says there was movement about five years ago to trade out residential beds for specialized foster homes.

The idea for this move was widely supported because it would offer more personalized care for children in a family-like setting.

But it never happened.

"DCFS, in its infinite lack of wisdom, got rid of the 500 residential beds before it created any of the specialized foster beds," Golbert said.

Golbert said those specialized foster home beds were never created, and the residential beds were never fully made up.

Smith told lawmakers they're aggressively working on the issue, but here's just how dire the situation is.

In 2015, the state has 159 emergency shelter beds.

That's now down to just 37.

Golbert calls it, "a crisis-level shortage of shelter beds."

Golbert says the shelter shortage is what's leading to kids sleeping on the floors of offices for weeks at a time and languishing in psychiatric hospitals after they've been cleared to leave.

"It's children now who are suffering and paying the price for this ineptitude," Golbert said.

The department says they've enhanced 613 residential beds in the last two years, meaning they added staff and services.

Smith also reports the department has added 71 residential beds in the last two years, but advocates say that's only a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds that were lost.

We've been asking DCFS since July, what is the net gain of beds that have been made up under the current administration?

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The department continues to ask for more time to gather those numbers.

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