The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit in 1988 in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, against the state of Illinois, on behalf of all children in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) placed somewhere other than with their parents. In 1989, the Court recognized plaintiff's constitutional and statutory claims under the substantive due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. s. 1983 and Adoption Assistance Welfare Act 42 U.S.C. ss. 620-28, 670-76. B.H. v. Johnson, 715 F. Supp. 1387 (N.D. Ill. 1989).
The class consisted of all children who had been or would be in the custody of DCFS, and children who had been or would be placed somewhere other than with their parents. The ACLU, the Office of the Public Guardian, and private counsel represented the class. The plaintiffs asked the court to grant injunctive relief, alleging that the policies and practices of DCFS violated substantive due process, equal protection, and procedural due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, violated provisions of the AAA, and violated state statutory provisions. More specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that DCFS policies and practices had resulted in mental and physical damage to the plaintiffs, because DCFS failed to place them in safe, stable homes in a suitable time and manner.
The plaintiffs alleged that while children were in DCFS custody (because of abuse or neglect by their custodians), DCFS failed to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, health care, protection from harm, and education to the children. The various homes, shelters, and institutions in which the children were housed did not offer adequate educational opportunities, and the behavior of the children was controlled by physical discipline. Placement in these institutions caused damage to the physical and emotional well being of the children. In one DCFS shelter an eight year-old girl was raped by two twelve year-old boys. DCFS caseworkers were assigned too many cases to allow them to competently perform their duties and as a result did not follow-up on the cases that they were assigned. Children faked suicide attempts and slit their wrists to get the attention of the DCFS worker in charge of their case. DCFS failed to provide funding and services that were essential to the care of children in its custody. Additionally, DCFS failed to ensure that necessary services to reunite families were in place.
The parties entered a consent decree in 1991, under which DCFS promised to hire additional employees to investigate child abuse and check on children in state custody. At the request of both sides, the Court appointed a Monitor to oversee the process and provide reports on the defendant's progress towards implementing the provisions of the decree.
The Office of the Public Guardian, which acted as guardian ad litem for many children in DCFS custody, sought to intervene. The District Court (Judge Grady) repeatedly denied the motions to intervene. On January 14, 1993, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit (Judge Richard Dickson Cudahy) affirmed the District Court's decision. B.H. v. Murphy, 984 F.2d 196 (7th Cir. 1993). The Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari on June 7, 1993. Murphy v. B.H., 508 U.S. 960 (1993).
In 1994, the Monitor filed a report with the Court stating that DCFS had complied with less than half of the 93 reforms stipulated in the consent decree. Press coverage of the Monitor's reports, public interest in the court-held status conferences, and attention from gubernatorial campaigns created an adversarial stalemate between the parties. As a result, the District Court held that the public did not have a right of access to status conferences between the parties. B.H. v. Ryder, 856 F. Supp. 1285 (N.D. Ill. 1994).
The parties then agreed to new strategies to implement the goals of the consent decree. A research center at the University of Illinois replaced the court monitor in providing regular reports on the defendant's progress. Additionally, the parties identified strategies to address the most serious non-compliance issues. The parties filed a Restated Consent Decree reflecting these modifications in 1997.
By July 2001, DCFS achieved substantial compliance with the original consent decree. Because of plaintiffs' on-going concerns about inadequate case workers and services, though, the parties negotiated a joint modification of the consent decree, approved by the Court in February 2003.
Defendants continued to struggle with addressing children's educational outcomes and access to mental health services as of a September 2005 court-held status conference. The Illinois legislature had proposed cuts in funding for DCFS in 2009, but the Court ordered the defendants to continue complying with the consent decree regardless of funding cuts.
Plaintiffs complained in 2012 to DCFS that its investigator caseloads were still substantially out of compliance with the consent decree. The parties negotiated an implementation plan in August 2012 to address the compliance issue regarding investigation caseloads. The case is ongoing. Elizabeth Homan - 10/29/2012