CHICAGO (CBS) — On orders from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, transportation vendors regularly shackled foster children — hands, feet, and a body length chain connecting all four limbs.
Now there are proposals to make big changes at the state agency charged with protecting some of the most vulnerable children.
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For months CBS 2 has uncovered practices of children being shackled, locked in psychiatric hospitals and banned from alerting journalists about what is happening to them.
CBS 2 shined a light on it in 2019, and DCFS said it stopped. We exposed new cases even after that promise, and now a law may be weeks away from making it a crime.
“Put me in handcuffs. I was wondering why. I asked why, ‘Why do I gotta be in handcuffs?’ They didn’t say nothing. They just said they gotta do it,” said foster teen Jawan Cross.
DCFS instructed a transport company to shackle him on his trip from the city to the suburbs.
“It was messed up,” he said.
That was October 2019.
In the weeks that followed, CBS2 discovered 28 children over three years were shackled by the same vendor on instruction from the state.
DCFS promised to stop, suspended workers and changed policy — only for us to discover even longer trips were still going on, some with metal restraints for almost 400 miles. A 14-year-old was taken 397 miles from Moline to Springfield, Missouri — a six-hour trip.
“I’m not sure I had heard of this practice or even contemplated it before CBS reported,” said State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago).
In the years since, DCFS says it has stopped.
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“The legislature is in a position to say, ‘No more,’” Feigenholtz said.
The senator from Chicago’s North Side drafted legislation that “prohibits the use of restraints on youth in care … including chemical, manual and mechanical restraints”
This week it passed the Illinois Senate with a 49-3 vote. If it clears the house, shackling foster children will become a crime.
“CBS reported many cases in which it was happening even when children were not in danger to themselves or others,” said Feigenholtz.
“I do believe that this was an incredibly important step. DCFS now has the message loud and clear to the extent they needed to hear it again,” said Heidi Dalenberg of the ACLU of Illinois.
“Heard again” since DCFS claimed to hear it clearly the first time, and it kept happening.
DCFS admitted there was never once a legitimate clinical or safety justification for the shackling.
The proposal is expected to get a first reading at the Illinois House in about the next week and could be passed by next month. The Cook County Public Guardian who helped draft the legislation said he has strong signals this will pass.
Another fix underway in Springfield involves DCFS and the First Amendment.
CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov had to fight in court for the right to interview a 17-year-old who wanted to tell his story of being locked up by the state in a psychiatric ward for weeks longer than he should have been.
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If passed, the new law would prohibit DCFS from trying to block its children from talking to journalists.