CHICAGO (CBS) — A teenager spent months longer than necessary locked in a psychiatric hospital, and now out and in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, he wanted to share his story.
Instead, his case ended up in court.
It all started with a request by CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov to speak to the boy.
The 17-year-old agreed to speak with Kozlov weeks ago about his psychiatric lockup – which not only affected him, but also affected hundreds of children in DCFS custody last year alone.
DCFS chose to fight to keep the teen from telling his story. But Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert is fighting back, in favor of what he said are the teen’s First Amendment rights.
“They’re down 300 investigators, and they send five lawyers to court to fight a 17-year-old who wants to tell his story,” Golbert said.
But Golbert was in court too, arguing on that 17-year-old’s behalf. Golbert is fighting to allow the teen to talk about his experience locked in a psychiatric ward at Hartgrove Hospital on the West Side for 67 days longer than medically necessary – and 67 days after a judge ordered his release.
“Because DCFS has nowhere to place him,” Golbert said.
Golbert said it is a problem getting worse every year for children in DCFS custody. His office found in Fiscal Year 2019, 314 children in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services spent more time than medically necessary locked in a psychiatric ward.
The average time was 50 days more than necessary.
“And if you do the multiplication, that comes out to 43 years of children’s lives wasted in locked psychiatric hospitals,” Golbert said.
Golbert said that further traumatizes already-traumatized kids. It’s why the 17-year-old wanted to speak with Kozlov.
But DCFS lawyers argued it’s not a First Amendment right and not an emergency.
“Actually, what DCFS’ interest is preventing bad publicity against themselves,” Golbert said.
The issue is not only about children’s care. Golbert said it is also a taxpayer concern – pointing out psychiatric care costs more than residential or foster care.
He puts the unnecessary psych ward lockup tab at $6.3 million last year alone.
Judge Patrick Murphy — who served as Cook County Public Guardian for more than 25 years himself — told lawyers at the court hearing Wednesday, “To run away from the public makes this all look terrible.” He scheduled a follow-up hearing for Friday.
Kozlov was allowed to attend the virtual court hearing in the case herself.
Meanwhile, a DCFS representative said concerns in the case focused solely on what is in the best interest of the minor. The representative also acknowledged that a growing shortage of residential beds and foster care homes are issues the department is working to address.