The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has fired a transportation company after learning it shackled a young foster child for several hours.
DCFS had been working with Jim Stewart Transportation since 2017, but that ended when the agency found out workers used mechanical restraints on a girl in foster care. The company was transporting her from Moline to Springfield, MO earlier this week.
Heidi Dalenberg of the ACLU of Illinois said the company put leg shackles on the child, which violated a DCFS inter-departmental ban on hard restraints.
“This shouldn’t have happened with this particular child, it’s just tragic. For each individual this happens to, it’s traumatic, it’s humiliating, it’s frightening,” Dalenberg said.
Dalenberg said she was relieved to hear the company was fired after the incident.
“There is no time at all when any of these children ought to be shackled,” Dalenberg said. “There are ways that you can protect a child’s safety during a trip without engaging in that kind of incomprehensible behavior.”
DCFS spokesperson Jassen Strokosch said the agency is conducting its own investigation into the matter and will be reprimanding any employees who approved the transfer.
Strokosch said employees are not allowed to request mechanical restraints of any kind, though a court or medical professional can order soft restraints in special circumstances.
The ACLU alleges within the last several months, at least one other child was subjected to restraints while in Jim Stewart Transportation's care.
Dalenberg said her organization will be working closely with DCFS to find solutions beyond paperwork and protocols, which she argued fails to protect children.
Transportation issues like this one are just one of many problems with Illinois' foster care system. Dalenberg said the state lacks resources that would prevent restraint issues from occurring altogether.
“Until we solve that problem, we’re going to continue to have these situations where we have to send children who live in Illinois, whose families and friends are in Illinois, out to places like Missouri, Arkansas or Indiana,” Dalenberg said. “Everytime we do that, we make it harder for that child to maintain bonds with their siblings and their birth parents, and that’s not good for kids.”