JEFFERSON COUNTY -- An emergency housing facility at the center of court case that led to the state's Department of Children and Family Services director being held in contempt of court was the subject of 161 service calls to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department in 2021.
The 12-bed facility is the Southern Thirty Adolescent Center near Mount Vernon. It is run by Lutheran Children and Family Services, and has a $1.9 million contract to house children in DCFS custody aged 11 to 17.
The facility is designed as a temporary shelter, offering children access to educational, mental health, and other appropriate services for up to 30 days.
But DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said the average stay there is 107 days.
It's the same facility where DCFS placed a 13-year-old boy, identified only as C.R.M. in court documents, in emergency custody for months despite a judge's order to move him to a more appropriate setting. Earlier this month Cook County Judge Patrick T. Murphy cited DCFS Director Marc Smith for contempt for failing to relocate the boy to a therapeutic foster home.
C.R.M. remained in STAC for nearly five months. Before arriving there on Aug. 14, the teen, who has severe mental disabilities, was originally placed in another temporary shelter in Chicago where he slept in a utility closet.
In the five months C.R.M. was at STAC, there were at least 26 calls made to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
Call logs from the Sheriff's Department from Dec. 14, 2020, to Dec. 14, 2021, showed calls from STAC for fights, criminal damage to property, unspecified juvenile incidents and alarms. But the vast majority of calls, 97, involved runaways.
"The sheriff's office uses significant resources responding to multiple calls for service each week at this facility," Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard said.
STAC follows a DCFS rule that requires a report to be made if a youth leaves campus, according to an email from Sara LoCoco, a LCFS spokesperson.
On some days there are multiple calls reporting runaways. Last year, there were two calls reporting runaways on Sept. 27, and three on June 30 and July 8. There were eight such calls during the first week of April.
STAC was originally designed to serve the southern 30 counties in Illinois. At some point, LoCoco said that direction changed, but she did not elaborate. STAC is located in a rural area of Jefferson County -- five miles from Mount Vernon.
The facility is surrounded by trees and a few residential homes. There is no public transportation nearby. Its closest neighbor is a business that rents heavy equipment. Children from Cook County, like C.R.M., placed at STAC are nearly a five-hour drive away from home.
"Illinois does not utilize locked residential facilities, and in spite of the best efforts to provide care for children living in these facilities, some youth choose to try to return home to their families and familiar living situations," McCaffrey, the DCFS spokesman, said in an email. "In these cases, DCFS works with local law enforcement to help return the children to a safe space where they can get the care and services needed."
McCaffrey said there are 50 emergency placement beds throughout the state, including eight new beds added recently in Cook County.
The Jan. 8 contempt charge pertaining to C.R.M. and a 9-year-old girl who was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital despite being eligible for release was purged on Jan. 13 and the $1,000-a-day fine vacated upon the two children's placement in appropriate housing.
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