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ACLU asks federal judge to force DCFS to improve conditions for kids

The American Civil Liberties Union took the Department of Children and Family Services to court Thursday, arguing the state agency has failed the children it looks after.

“We believe it is a crisis,” Benjamin Wolf, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, said after a short court hearing. “Some children are placed in the most dangerous and inappropriate residential treatment centers. Other children are . . . spending six months or a year in a shelter when they ought to be getting services in a home.”

Last week, the ACLU filed an emergency motion in federal court, asking U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso to force the state welfare agency to improve the way it cares for an estimated 1,500 kids living in dire circumstances.

One major issue Wolf told the judge was a “revolving door” of people running the agency over the last 15 months. During that period, six different people ran the agency on an interim basis, Wolf said.

“We tried to negotiate a solution with the department for months,” Wolf said. “We decided we just have to take it to the court.”

Assistant Attorney General Barbara Greenspan, who represented the state in court, did not dispute the allegations made against the agency.

But she asked the judge for additional time to file a response. The reason, Greenspan explained, is George H. Sheldon was just recently appointed to head up the agency and needs time to get brought up to speed.

The judge agreed and will take up the ACLU’s request at a later date.