ProPublica (Co-published with The Atlantic), June 5, 2018
Duaa Eldeib


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Doctors had agreed Brasfield was ready to be discharged about six weeks after he arrived, but the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which is his legal guardian, couldn’t find anywhere for him to go.

Brasfield is one of hundreds of children in the care of DCFS who are held each year inside psychiatric hospitals for weeks or months, even though they have been cleared to leave, a ProPublica Illinois investigation found.

Instead of moving on to a foster home or residential treatment center — a less restrictive facility where children attend school and lead more normal lives — these children have languished in secure mental health facilities, the consequence of the child welfare agency’s failure to find them appropriate placements.

These unnecessary hospitalizations are another failure for a state system that has frequently fallen short in its charge to care for Illinois’ most vulnerable children, who suffer from conditions such as severe depression or bipolar disorder. Though statistics to compare how states handle children in psychiatric hospitals are scarce, and other states also experience similar challenges, psychiatrists and mental health experts say circumstances in Illinois are among the most dire in the nation.

bioethics children's health health law policy mental health public health