dave-mittlemanThe Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (which is responsible for child welfare and foster care) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (which licenses and inspects medical facilities) have initiated preliminary talks to increase oversight of Chicago-area psychiatric hospitals after recent reports of juveniles being raped or sexually assaulted at these medical facilities.

The Chicago Tribune drew attention to the problem with a September 22, 2010, article detailing at least 18 cases of reported rape or sexual abuse of juveniles in the last two years at a handful of prominent Chicago-area centers. Following that expose, both DCFS and Public Health officials indicated that the status quo would not be tolerated.

Early suggestions include increasing the number of health inspectors that oversee hospitals and providing them with more authority to investigate abuse allegations and to levy fines for patient safety breaches. The DCFS director also supports holding institutions responsible for neglect when inadequate staffing levels or other management problems contribute to the attacks.

However, ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf contends that more inspectors alone is not sufficient. Instead, he argues that the health department needs “independent, clinically sophisticated investigators” to help uncover systematic shortfalls in treatment and safety that may have contributed to the incidents. Of the 18 alleged reports, the Department of Public Health was only able to cite patient-safety deficiencies in three of those cases.

It appears that some of the abuse came as a result of admitting aggressive and dangerous juveniles, then failing to properly supervise them, or not notifying police and state regulators of attacks.