Foster Kids Endangered by Illinois Budget Cuts

     CHICAGO (CN) - A child whose mother set her on fire and 100 other foster kids in state custody will lose "all counseling services" if Illinois is allowed to cut its Children and Family Services budget by 50 percent on July 1 as planned, a Cook County Public Guardian says. Robert Harris claims the budget cuts will eliminate "all counseling services to children who are in state care due to physical or sexual abuse, neglect or dependency."
     On behalf of more than 100 foster children, Harris sued the Department of Children and Family Services and Gov. Pat Quinn, whose budget calls for DCFS funding to be cut by 50 percent.
     Harris asked the Cook County Court to enjoin Quinn and the DCFS from terminating counseling services for children in custody without due process and "without individual consideration of each child's needs."
     Harris says the children have "all suffered extraordinary trauma in their young lives," such as "physical and sexual abuse, witness(ing) domestic violence" and neglect.
     Harris says one child in custody suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after her mother set her on fire.
     Another child saw his mother's boyfriend murder his younger brother, and developed "a heightened fascination with violence and death," Harris says.
     Harris says that even after going into foster care some children "have experienced additional abuse," and that the governor and DCFS are "legally responsible for providing children with ... counseling and other services."
     Harris says it is essential to treat the children's psychological issues to prevent them from emotionally deteriorating. Without such treatments, "children cannot be safely returned to their parent" and "foster care placements [will] disrupt, causing children to cycle through multiple foster homes," exacerbating their fragile mental conditions.
     Although DCFS projected a 2.1 percent increase in foster children for 2010, on May 31, the Illinois General Assembly compelled the budget cuts via a state Senate bill. Now the department "will be required to reduce expenditures by $460 million," Harris says. He says DCFS plans to halt foster counseling services as of July 1.     
     Harris says that will violate the children's constitutional rights, and their right to mental health care under the Children and Family Services Act and the Juvenile Care Act.