Demmer, Jesiel seek answers during hearing on bill offering recompense to adolescents in foster care
Sympathy for the plight of foster children did not keep Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and Rep. Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor) from questioning Illinois' offer of recompense to adolescents.
Sponsored by Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), HB4964 is an Illinois Chapter of Foster Care Alumni initiative that reimburses children in psychiatric facilities beyond medical necessity $600 daily. According to the Wallace, it is a way the state can make right what it is wrong.
“Because we don’t have proper placement, those children remain in the hospital long beyond the need for them to be there,” Wallace said at Tuesday’s House Human Services Committee hearing, adding that 200 children remained in psychiatric care beyond medical necessity.
According to Wallace, adolescents suffer additional emotional anxiety and trauma when they are kept in psychiatric facilities longer than prescribed.
“We are doing those children a disservice,” Wallace said.
Demmer asked Wallace how she came up the financial remuneration.
“We all have an interest in avoiding people being in the inappropriate setting of treatment longer than they need to be, but I question $600 a day going to an individual,” Demmer said. “How is that a remedy?”
First skirting the question, Wallace referred to the budget imbalance and the Department of Human Services not having enough money for “over a dozen years.”
“Since the body has not been able to do that in the time that I have been here, I am saying that these children should and deserve some remedy,” Wallace said. “If we are not going to put resources forward to make sure there are proper placements for them, then we should be on the hook as a state.”
Calling HB4964, the “teeth” of the Foster Children Bill of Rights, the first piece of legislation Wallace passed after entering office in 2014, she said it may not be the perfect answer, but it is riposte.
“I don’t disagree, and I think talking about funding through the budget process to try to improve access and opportunities for youth in care is a great idea, but my question is how the $600 dollars is a remedy,” Demmer said. “Is the idea that the state would want to try and avoid having to pay that?”
Absolutely, she answered.
“Really, the department has limited control and are subject to appropriations to what we decide to give them as legislators,” Demmer said.
“So maybe we will take this legislation and have a little fire lit under DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) and all of our Human Services have adequate resources,” Wallace countered.
Demmer did not back down.
“If we want to improve what happens in DCFS there is an appropriation process that we can go through to give them the resources to improve,” Demmer said. “This literally looks like we are throwing money at the problem.”
Countering her comments, Foster Care Alumni of America Illinois chapter co-founder James McIntyre called the matter a constitutional issue.
“I am not disputing that at all, but what I am getting at is what is the systemic problem that is keeping them there?” Jesiel asked. “Are there a lack of facilities to discharge them to or people looking the other way?”
Jesiel said improving the system and infrastructure is the answer, not fining people.
“We don’t want to be there, but the problem is there is not enough places for them to go, so you are creating a penalty without any kind of way to resolve the issue,” Jesiel said, adding she is extremely sympathetic to the children and cannot imagine how difficult it must be to remain hospitalized longer than necessary. “But this doesn’t feel like a good solution.”
HB4964 advanced 7-5 and will move onto the House floor for debate.