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Audit identifies flaws in DCFS placement, care of LGBTQ youth

DCFS has no formal process to identify youth who might identify as LGBTQ, uses outdated or non-existent computer systems to track youth in care, audit finds

An auditor general report published Wednesday unveiled shortfalls in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ identification, monitoring, placement and care for LGBTQ youth.

The audit was the product of a Senate resolution that required the Illinois Auditor General to check DCFS’ protection and affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer youth.

Major findings within the report include that DCFS has no formal process in place to identify youth who might identify as LGBTQ. The department additionally uses outdated, inadequate or non-existent computer systems to track youth in care – particularly those who identify as LGBTQ.

Auditors also found that caseworkers often fail to review the Foster Children’s Bill of Rights with the youth in their care as required. Further, the department does not require licensed foster parents to commit to providing care and homes that are affirming of all children and youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, as part of the licensing process.

“Overall the audit found that there is a lack of reliable and consistent information regarding LGBTQ youth in the cater of the Department,” the auditors wrote in their report. “Further, although the Department has established policies and procedures to ensure the well-being of LGBTA youth in care, the Department did not implement all of these procedures or the procedures were not implemented in a times manner.”

There also was a lack of monitoring and oversight of private agency compliance with those procedures, the audit found.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer youth within Illinois’ foster care system represent nearly 80% of children who experienced at least one placement disruption between 2017 and 2018, according to the report. Those disruptions include runaways, psychiatric hospitalizations, disruptive behaviors and abuse or neglect allegations against the foster parents.

The report also highlighted boundaries to LGBTQ-affirming medical treatment and services. Seventeen of 39 possible transgender youth identified during the audit required hormone therapy. Of those, 15 were referred for hormone therapy and an additional youth received hormones without DCFS consent, according to the report. Fifteen received transition-related care.

Notably, DCFS failed to properly implement a set of LGBTQ-specific training requirements that were updated in May 2017. The department did not begin training staff until more than two years later in June 2019, according to the report.

In June 2020, DCFS also eliminated the LGBTQ coordinator position and split the responsibilities between two offices.

The number of expenditures for youth emergency shelters also saw a significant decreased from $12.9 million in 2017 to $5.4 million in 2019, according to the report.

“It is unclear where youth in crisis are taken when no shelter beds exist or when no shelter beds are available,” auditors wrote. “Without an adequate number of shelter beds available, the Department may not always be able to initially place youth in care in an adequate setting. Further, when youth are not properly placed it can put their safety at risk.”

The audit produced 16 recommendations for DCFS to better serve its LGBTQ youth. Among those recommendations was the implementation of a uniform computer tracking system, LGBTQ-specific training and procedures, increased emergency shelter bed availability, and the recruitment of LGBTQ-affirming foster parents.

Data specifically related to the number of LGBTQ youth in the foster care system is believed to be a gross underrepresentation, according to the report. Auditors estimate that the number of LGBTQ youth in Illinois’ foster care system likely is between 522 and 2,624, compared to the 91 possible LGBTQ youth identified by Illinois DCFS, according to the report. During the course of the audit, officials identified 17 additional youth in care who may have identified as LGBTQ who were not on the list provided by DCFS.

“There are several factors affecting the Department’s ability to match and place LGBTQ youth in care with affirming foster parents,” auditors wrote. “The first is that the department does not collect information from youth when they come into care about their sexual orientation or gender identity and this information is not included as part of the child’s record.”

Other youth in the foster care system might not identify as a member of the LGBTQ community until after they enter the system.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie has reported on the crime and courts beat for the Northwest Herald since 2017. She began her career with Shaw Media in 2015 at the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, where she reported on the courts, city council, the local school board, and business.