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DCFS investigating abuse allegations at Chicago shelter that housed migrant kids

Inside one of the Heartland Alliance shelters, this on the South Side, where immigrant children separated from parents were held in Chicago. Confidential records reveal details about struggles the 99 children faced. | Provided by Heartland Alliance

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is investigating a Chicago shelter that housed children separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

The agency confirmed Wednesday evening that it is investigating Heartland Alliance for allegations of abuse and neglect, according to DCFS spokeswoman Alissandra Calderon.

On Tuesday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin called for an investigation into allegations of abuse at the Chicago social-services facility Casa Guadalupe, run by the nonprofit Heartland Alliance, after reports of physical and emotional abuse surfaced Monday in a story in the Washington Post.

In the article, children said they were monitored by hidden cameras and prohibited from hugging siblings, and two boys claimed “they saw a troubled 5-year-old boy repeatedly injected with something that made him fall asleep at his desk,” the Post reported.

“It is not our practice to ever use injections for behavior management—our staff are well-trained in handling childcare and emotional issues. We provide a structure of learning and play at our shelters, children are given age-appropriate chores, and we nurture all children in our residential shelters,” Heartland Alliance spokeswoman Mailee Garcia said in a statement.

The organization self-reported their concerns to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Children and Family Services immediately after learning of the allegations, according to Garcia. Heartland also began an internal investigation.

“We welcome additional investigation of our programs, and if any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger or did not follow protocols, we will immediately remove them from their duties,” Garcia said in the statement. “We have augmented the staff capacity and oversight at our shelters while we await the outcome of all investigations, and all shelter staff are receiving additional mandatory training on trauma-informed care by the end of July.”

“We fervently believe that families belong together. Children who are victims of the federal zero tolerance policy arrive at our doors sad, scared, even traumatized,” Garcia added. “We stand alongside families and children seeking safety in the U.S.”