Chicago, Illinois – Every day, there is a foster child languishing in psychiatric hospitals after being cleared to leave. These children are held beyond medical necessity in Illinois. On Monday, February 14th, 2022, Cook County Presiding Judge Robert Balanoff extended the child advocacy services of the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Cook County (CASA) through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Cook County Juvenile Courts to specifically assist the courts with Beyond Medical Necessity (BMN) cases. The new MOU assigns CASA of Cook County Volunteers to foster children who are in psychiatric hospitals beyond the time of their medical clearance, otherwise known as Beyond Medical Necessity (BMN). Additionally, sibling groups of two or more children will be assigned a CASA of Cook County Volunteer. These two groups of high-risk foster children join the Medically At-Risk (M.A.R.K.) and zero- to five-year-old children in the early childhood court innovation program.
Dr. Bonita Carr, Executive Director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Cook County, states “Today is momentous for our most vulnerable population of children in foster care in Chicago and the greater Cook County who have been historically voiceless and left behind in a child welfare system that is overburdened. These children will now have the advocacy that has for so long escaped them and the advocacy they deserve.”
Unnecessarily prolonged hospital stays often have detrimental effects on children. Medical experts have described these effects to deteriorate children emotionally and behaviorally. Children who are BMN typically lose relationships with their extended family and friends, many who emotionally support them. Furthermore, their education is not prioritized and they regularly feel alone. James McIntyre, Director of Community Outreach and Engagement for CASA of Cook County is a former youth in care who was held Beyond Medical Necessity (BMN). He remembers, “While I was sitting in those hospitals, I often felt abandoned and didn’t have anyone fighting for me. Now, I am elated to tell my brothers and sisters who are in foster care that they will always have a voice.”
This new MOU would not have been possible without the $1 Million Dollar grant investment from the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ (ILBC) support of CASA of Cook County’s initiative to address the systemic disparity of CASA advocacy across Illinois. Over 30+ years of historical disinvestment of CASA advocacy for the 5,510 foster children in Chicago and Cook County who are overwhelmingly Black and Brown, resulted in Cook County serving only 11% of the foster care population: the least number of children served in the Illinois CASA network overall. The ILBC stood tall with child victims of abuse and neglect in Chicago & Cook County by securing funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). This budget was later signed by Governor JB Pritzker.
Although today is just day one, CASA of Cook County stands ready to serve all the children in Chicago & Cook County’s foster care system.