April 17, 2007

Archdiocese of Chicago makes business decision to end Catholic Charities' foster program; lawsuit for abused and neglected children blamed

In 2006, Hurley McKenna & Mertz obtained a $12 million settlement for three children abused by a foster parent recruited, trained, licensed and monitored by the foster care program run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Catholic Charities was required by its contract with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to place the three children, then aged 1, 2 and 3, in a properly qualified foster home and monitor their placement. Instead, as the Hurley McKenna & Mertz firm alleged in its Complaint at Law, Catholic Charities failed to properly investigate the background of the foster mother prior to placing the three children in her care, failed to conduct sufficient or adequate home visits of the foster home, failed to grant the foster mother's request to have the children removed from the home, and allowed the children to remain with foster parent after her license expired.

During the two years that the Catholic Charities' licensed foster parent cared for the three children, the foster parent burned the the oldest child, a boy, with cigarettes; failed to feed the children regularly, resulting in malnourishment; forced the children to eat off the floor; and prevented the children from using the toilet, bathtub or shower. The foster mother placed the hands of the oldest child, a girl, in boiling water, resulting in severe burns and permanent scars. The older children showed signs of sexual abuse.

Catholic Charities failed to check the foster mother's application for obvious falsehoods. Catholic Charities failed to make the regular home visits required by Illinois law. Further, Catholic Charities failed to respond to reports that the children were neglected in the foster home. As a result, the three children suffered needlessly, and they will suffer physical and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

Today the Chicago Tribune reported that the foster care program run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago is shutting down. Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Chicago claim they are unable to obtain insurance coverage for the program as a consequence of the settlement, as if they are unable to bear the financial risk of continuing a program that has been in existence for 90 years.

The Archdiocese has chosen to blame a settlement with three abused children as causing the demise of its foster program, instead of accepting responsibility for the conduct that resulted in the settlement. The Archdiocese of Chicago is a sophisticated business entity, which listed over $2.7 Billion in assets on its 2006 financial statement. In my opinion, if the Archdiocese wished to maintain a commitment to children in need of safe, well-trained and properly supervised foster care, it has the financial resources to continue to do so.

At a time when the State of Illinois is placing fewer children in foster homes, and making a stronger effort to keep families together, the Archdiocese has made a business decision to stop maintaining its contract with DCFS to run its foster care program. This is the prerogative of the Archdiocese. But putting out press releases that tie the closure to a large settlement only tells half the story. The large settlement was paid because there was evidence to support it. The archdiocese fought this case for five years while our abused and neglected clients lived at the poverty level. The settlement was made on the eve of trial to avoid a public hearing of all of the facts.

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