CHICAGO — A state audit finds children in the care of Illinois’ welfare system are being housed in psychiatric hospitals and shelters hundreds of days longer than necessary because of the difficulty of finding placements in foster care.

The review of the Department of Children and Family Services was conducted by the state auditor general’s office and released Thursday.

The Chicago Tribune reports (http://trib.in/2ceKSvN ) that inspectors found one state ward remained in an emergency shelter 357 days last year, far longer than the court-ordered 30 days.

The number of children remaining in psychiatric hospitals longer than medically necessary more than doubled in 2015 from the year before to 168. The average length of stay for those children went up to 40 days in 2015.

“Meanwhile, the children are suffering,” said Benjamin Wolf, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “I talked to a child who was trapped in a psychiatric hospital, and he was just weeping because he felt abandoned by everybody. What can you say? He has been abandoned. Like a shelter, it’s a miserable place to spend a big chunk of your childhood.”

Wolf said the audit’s findings are symptoms of inadequate community mental health services and a chronic shortage of appropriate placements for children in the foster care system.

DCFS Director George Sheldon acknowledged in an emailed statement that “this is one of the most intractable issues we have been dealing with.”

The agency responded to the audit with a number of proposed solutions, including a psychiatric hospital tracking database and improved procedures for kids in shelters, which are planned for later this year. DCFS also said it will overhaul the database used to track youth placement.

“We do recognize the children and older youth have been in the hospital too long,” DCFS spokeswoman Veronica Resa said. “One day is too long.”


Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com