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offering more comprehensive services and thus serving more clients, but also has fluctuated the
system’s priorities have shifted.
While the mission of DCFS is noble, its work is not without criticism. Since its creation,
there have been several class action suits brought against DCFS to reorient its practices to better
serve the children that come into the system. While lawsuits are not thought of as a traditional
means of policy implementation the way legislative changes are, the lawsuits have nonetheless
often been effective in making the desired changes. The following examples of class actions will
demonstrate this assertion.
II. B.H. CONSENT DECREE
The first class action to be discussed is B.H. v. Sheldon, a class action suit the American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)33 in Illinois brought against DCFS in 1988.34 The plaintiffs were
a group of ten children who ranged from two to seventeen years old who had been removed from
their homes and placed in DCFS custody after experiencing abuse, neglect, or dependency.35 The
complaint alleged that DCFS routinely subjected the children to serious damage to their mental
health, development, and physical well-being, specifically, purporting DCFS failed to provide
them with safe and stable placements.36 The plaintiffs also claimed they had been shuffled among
upwards of six homes or facilities, often ending warehoused in violent and overcrowded shelters
or in foster homes where they once again faced abuse and neglect from which DCFS was supposed
to protect them.37 The complaint also alleged that DCFS failed to provide children and families
with appropriate services to prevent the initial removal from their home or ultimately to reunify
these children with their families.38
The Court held that the plaintiffs’ allegations set forth a claim under the Fourteenth
Amendment, as the treatment violated the children’s constitutional right to be “free from
unreasonable or unwarranted intrusions upon their physical and emotional well-being.”39 It in
turn found that, at a minimum, the state must provide the children adequate food, shelter, clothing,
and medical care, as well as adequately train caseworkers on how to secure these basic
constitutional rights for the children.40
33 See generally Our History, ACLU, http://www.aclu-il.org/about/our-history) (last visited June 1, 2017) (The
ACLU is a “non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the liberties guaranteed by the U.S.
Constitution, the state Constitution, and state/federal human rights laws. The ACLU accomplishes its goals through
litigating, lobbying, and educating the public on a broad array of civil liberties issues.”).
34 B.H. v. Sheldon: Case Overview, ACLU, http://www.aclu-il.org/bh-v-sheldon22 (last visited June 1, 2017)
[hereinafter Case Overview]. The reason this is called “B.H. v. Sheldon” is because the current DCFS director’s
name is George Sheldon. The case as originally filed as B.H. v. Gordon Johnson, as he was the director in in 1989,
and when the consent decree was published it was originally titled B.H. v. Sue Suter.
35 Consent Decree, B.H. v. Sheldon (No. 88-C-5599, N.D. Ill., Dec 20, 1991), http://www.aclu-il.org/wp-
content/uploads/2011/07/B%20H%20%20-%201997%20Restated%20Consent%20Decree.pdf [hereinafter Consent
36 Id. at 2.
39 Id. at 3 (A procedural due process claim was also raised, but that will not be discussed in this article as it was
originally dismissed and was not a part of the consent decree.).