Posts Tagged ‘Maryville Academy’

More Sad News from Illinois DCFS

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

News reports state that 11 youths died within the care of Illinois DCFS during the two-year period ending 6/30/15.

I recall that the Chicago Sun-Times campaigned against the Catholic child-care institution Maryville in 2002-3 over one suicide, and, with the help of the ACLU, drove the dedicated Fr. John P. Smyth out of child care after four decades of service. Now the Sun-Times reporters and editors should be very proud of themselves, given the catastrophic failure of Illinois DCFS.

As I wrote during the Maryville controversy–

The enduring naive faith of Chicago child welfare reformers in, of all things, Illinois politics to provide stability for poor children is the core dumb idea to which crusading reformers return decade after decade, like the Biblical dog returning to its vomit. . . .

Here is a link with a summary of my correspondence from 2002-3 on this subject.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Back to the Future in Illinois Child Welfare

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Recent Chicago press accounts of unreported deaths among children managed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had a familiar ring for me. Some of the same cast of characters in the ACLU and Chicago Sun-Times campaign of 2002-2003 against Maryville Academy, a longstanding Catholic childcare institution, over one suicide were now attacking their own creation, the DCFS of today, over many unreported deaths.

Over ten years ago, I issued a challenge in a number of letters to the editors of Chicago papers to revisit the “reforms” of 2002-3 ten years hence to see it they actually made any difference. Today, the same ACLU court appointee is still monitoring DCFS, and some of the same Chicago Sun-Times reporters are ten years later writing about DCFS. At this point, to what good purpose?

Below are several letters I sent to various Chicago newspapers in 2002-3 during the Maryville Academy controversy, which forced out the long-time director of Maryville, Fr. John P. Smyth, in 2003. The core of my 2002-3 argument is drawn from two of these letters:

The enduring naive faith of Chicago child welfare reformers in, of all things, Illinois politics to provide stability for poor children is the core dumb idea to which crusading reformers return decade after decade, like the Biblical dog returning to its vomit. . . .

Both the civil libertarian and psychiatric elites are just as naive about the institutional sustainability of their ideas today as they were in the 1970s. They are banking on the state to fund and run child welfare, but they forget that every few years, the state’s budget collapses as it is doing now, and the rug gets pulled from under the indigent. With drastic cuts expected due to the Illinois fiscal crisis in state DCFS services, stable and prudently endowed independent institutions like Maryville continue to play a critical stop-gap role in serving children, and thus also the public interest. With the state’s resources melting down, the elite now turn to take control of Maryville. But Maryville’s service to children is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom. We should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy.

Here is the rest of my 2002-3 time-capsule below–

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September 6, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editor:

The 9/6/02 front page Sun-Times story, “Maryville is Losing Control,” had all of the familiar elements of the child welfare dilemma in Illinois going back over a century: the crusading attorneys, ever wise with infallible hindsight; the under-funded state agency, which passes its problems to the under-staffed religious institution; the psychiatric experts, who now know considerably more about drugs than about many other things; and the legislature, which would rather fund roads and casinos than kids.

One hundred years of ill-advised Illinois policy, misappropriation, and progressive humbug on child welfare all wound up in the last available place it could go, Maryville Academy, because by our century of child neglect in Illinois we have closed most of the rest.

So file the story away, noting the quotes of all the wise people who knew better than Fr. John P. Smyth. Then read this same story in ten years, and judge the effectiveness of the institutions, if there are any left in Illinois, which were organized by the same very wise people. Who of them would dare to so associate the success or failure of such a high-risk charitable effort with their own good name as had Fr. Smyth? Would the ACLU–present but somehow exempt from being quoted directly in the 9/6/02 story?

The real scandal remains that Illinois, from all sources public and private, funds less than one-third of the child welfare services that are necessary. If Fr. Smyth really had all the clout that the Sun-Times implied he did, he would have changed that. He has only spent a lifetime trying.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[unpublished]

December 11, 2002

Catholic New World

Dear Editor:

Recent media stories about Maryville Academy tell us more about the state of child welfare in Illinois than give us any clues for helping poor or disturbed children. We need to know more about Maryville’s place in child welfare history to understand just how unfair the campaign against Maryville is.

In her book, The Juvenile Court and the Progressives, author Victoria Getis described the gradual transition and transfer of child welfare resources in Chicago from idealistic social service at the turn of the 20th century to a growing child welfare apparatus linked with university-based research in following generations. My own summary is that more and more was spent maintaining over time the bureaucracy of judges, attorneys, psychiatrists, social workers, probation officers, guards, professor-evaluators, and support personnel than was spent caring for children. Catholic child-care facilities of this early era, then with independent financial resources from stable funds like religious cemeteries and cottage industries, were shielded from the ups and downs of government, and could provide children relative stability.

In the late 1960s, Illinois’ child welfare system reached a crisis point due to the explosion of urban poverty. Like other states, Illinois, at the behest of legislators for fiscal reasons and civil libertarians for idealistic ones, embraced the de-institionalization movement in child welfare, led in the 1970s by then Illinois DCFS head Jerome Miller. Many child-care institutions were closed, and many dependent teens and pre-teens found themselves on the streets. As a young graduate student in the early 1970s, I followed the fates of children sent away from the closed Angel Guardian Orphanage and other institutions into the alleys of Chicago’s Uptown, Juneway Terrace, West Town, and South and West Sides. Several of these kids wound up dead, and many more faced abuse. It was not Illinois progressivism’s finest hour. The full history of teen de-institutionalization was never told–too embarrassing for the press, the crusading attorneys, and the professors. Maryville director Rev. John Smyth learned the lesson of these years, and prudently built Maryville’s endowment.

If we fast-forward to today, we find the post de-institutionalization generation of civil libertarians now anointed as guardians of child welfare by the press and to a certain extent the courts, with few psychiatric facilities available to children thanks to previous “reforms.”

The civil libertarians now want to change the mission of Maryville Academy to match the latest in their long series of unproved psychiatric experiments. They who have never themselves successfully run a child welfare effort eye the $100 million Maryville endowment built by good Catholic stewardship– proper as it is for an almost 300-bed group of facilities–and want to take over Maryville. Until it stopped doing so on 12/9/02, the state continued to send disturbed kids to Maryville who didn’t belong there, problems developed, the press stepped in, and blamed Maryville. It is an old strategy, brought to perfection during the state’s institutional takeovers and shutdowns of the 1970s. So the press milks the Maryville story, rehashing headlines and adding roughly one new substantive quote a day.

When one thinks of the thousands of young lives sent hither and yon by court-appointed psychiatrists in the 20th century based upon now-discredited Freudian theories, we should be rightfully cautious when today’s child psychiatrists tell us that this time they really, really, have the answer for the development of children and their institutional care. A more sober assessment is that the present science of child psychiatry begins and ends with knowledge of the effects of drugs, and to a lesser extent the relationship between genetics, disease, and mental illness. Almost everything else psychiatric is educated guesswork clothed in mostly unproved scientific-sounding jargon, but Illinois child welfare pundits and the courts, who have failed children for generations, never have and might never ever admit it.

Maryville’s independence is good for the vast majority of children it serves, and is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom to perform works of charity. We Catholics should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy, and challenge the child welfare elite to try to do a better job–and to start by raising their own money to do so.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

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REVISED [published] letter

December 22, 2002

Editor
Catholic New World

Dear Editor:

The recent unrelenting media campaign against Maryville Academy tells only part of the story of Maryville in Illinois child welfare past and present. In op-ed essays and puff-pieces in the daily papers, leading actors in child welfare now argue what they each want Maryville to be. Two years ago, the press had Maryville walking on water. What is going on?

Here’s what: a determined child welfare elite wants the state to take over Maryville and its multi- million dollar endowment, prudently built over a lifetime by Maryville director Rev. John Smyth for poor and dependent children. Standing in the elite’s way is the reputation of Rev. Smyth.

On the one hand of the elite are the civil libertarians. The press forgets that the civil libertarians cheered for de-institutionalization of youth and mental health institutions in the 1970s, a poorly planned and unfunded transition which led to the deaths and homelessness of uncounted poor persons. Almost thirty years ago I followed a number of the kids put out into the streets when homes like Angel Guardian Orphanage were closed: some wound up dead, some abused. Maryville director Rev. John Smyth learned the lesson of these years, and carefully built Maryville’s endowment.

Ironically, today a gullible press and the courts are persuaded that, having presided over one debacle, the civil libertarians need another crack at child welfare. It was ever thus. See The Juvenile Court and the Progressives, by Victoria Getis, which described how idealistic child welfare innovations became a bureaucracy of the elite.

On the other hand is the child psychiatric elite in Chicago, key actors among which have been publicly cited in recent years by the federal government for not obtaining legally effective informed consent from research subjects. The Chicago press has not done its homework, and has placed some big bets on the wrong horses.

Both the civil libertarian and psychiatric elites are just as naive about the institutional sustainability of their ideas today as they were in the 1970s. They are banking on the state to fund and run child welfare, but they forget that every few years, the state’s budget collapses as it is doing now, and the rug gets pulled from under the indigent. With drastic cuts expected due to the Illinois fiscal crisis in state DCFS services, stable and prudently endowed independent institutions like Maryville continue to play a critical stop-gap role in serving children, and thus also the public interest. With the state’s resources melting down, the elite now turn to take control of Maryville. But Maryville’s service to children is an essential expression of Catholic religious freedom. We should fight very hard to prevent the takeover of Maryville Academy.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[edited versions of this letter were published]

July 11, 2003

Catholic New World

Dear Editors:

Before journalists at both of Chicago’s dailies begin accepting awards from each other over the Rev. John P. Smyth’s 7/10/03 decision to step down from day to day directon of Maryville Academy, let us ask, What has been accomplished to improve child welfare in Illinois during the newspapers’ two year anti-Maryville crusade?

Not much. According to one of the papers this week, hundreds of DCFS wards still cannot be found in the state’s revolving-door foster care system. And what of the unrelenting source in Illinois of abused and neglected children–the unabated epidemic of physical and sexual abuse of children in poor and minority communities–which Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson has called America’s dirty secret? It is much easier for a newspaper to pick the low-hanging fruit of Maryville or any child-care institution for stories, transcribing from the ever-willing Cook County Public Guardian Patrick Murphy and ACLU’s Ben Wolf, instead of confronting in full detail the rampant beating and molestation of children in poor and minority communities which puts children by the thousands into DCFS’s care in the first place, and risking significant loss of readership. The latter would indeed merit a journalism award.

The Maryville stories are really about the money, the $100 million endowment raised by Fr. Smyth over forty years, which is mentioned in each story as if Smyth committed a crime. The newspapers, the Public Guardian, the ACLU, and the professors are in this story in order to direct how that money is used. But some us still remember why that money was raised: Thirty-five years ago, the newspapers and civil libertarians were riding another hobbyhorse, the move to de-institutionalize child care, which sent hundreds of DCFS wards out into the streets, and managed to kill a number of them. Smyth, a visionary, realized that the state’s child welfare system would always be under-funded and unstable, and that an institution like Maryville could provide uninterrupted service to children despite the foster care turnstyle.

The enduring naive faith of Chicago child welfare reformers in, of all things, Illinois politics to provide stability for poor children is the core dumb idea to which crusading reformers return decade after decade, like the Biblical dog returning to its vomit Face it, the state will never by itself solve the problem, and the jury is still out on whether the psychiatric model of child care favored by the reformers will even work on a large scale. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the psychiatric model turns out after a generation to be an unsustainable idea, too? That is why well-endowed and independent Catholic charities like Maryville will continue to make a significant contribution, despite everything.

There is a final delicious irony here. Usually, celibate priests are criticized for giving advice about sex. In Maryville’s case, the high priests calling for Fr. Smyth’s resignation are child care virgins, those who, unlike Smyth, have never run a large care institution. If Murphy’s or Wolf’s offices or ideas were submitted to the same evaluative scrutiny as was Maryville, would their bully pulpits long endure?

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

[published]

July 22, 2003

Editors, Chicago Sun-Times

Dear Editors:

Before journalists begin accepting awards from each other over the Rev. John P. Smyth ‘s decision to step down from day-to-day direction of Maryville Academy, let us ask: What has been accomplished to improve child welfare in Illinois during both daily newspapers’ two-year anti-Maryville crusade?

Not much. According to one of the papers, hundreds of DCFS wards still cannot be found in the state’s revolving-door foster care system. And what of the unrelenting source in Illinois of abused and neglected children–the physical and sexual abuse of children in poor and minority communities–which Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson has called America’s dirty secret?

It is much easier for a newspaper to pick the low-hanging fruit of Maryville or any child-care institution for stories, instead of confronting the rampant beating and molestation of children in poor and minority communities that puts children by the thousands into DCFS’ care in the first place.

The Maryville stories are really about the money–the $100 million endowment raised by Smyth over 40 years, which is mentioned in each story as if Smyth committed a crime. The newspapers, the public guardian, the ACLU and the professors are in this story in order to direct how that money is used. But some of us still remember why that money was raised: Thirty-five years ago, the newspapers and civil libertarians were riding another hobbyhorse: the move to deinstitutionalize child care, which sent hundreds of DCFS wards out into the streets, and managed to kill a number of them. Smyth , a visionary, realized that the state’s child welfare system would always be underfunded and unstable, and that an institution like Maryville could provide uninterrupted service to children despite the foster care turnstile.

Face it: The state will never by itself solve the problem, and the jury is still out on whether the psychiatric model of child care favored by the reformers will even work on a large scale. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the psychiatric model turns out after a generation to be an unsustainable idea, too? That is why well-endowed and independent Catholic charities like Maryville will continue to make a significant contribution, despite everything.

Sincerely,

Albert Schorsch, III

===

September 21, 2003

Catholic New World

Dear Editors:

The Illinois Governor’s 9/19/03 decision to pull state wards out of Maryville Academy’s main campus brought to light the media and political forces working against Maryville and other Catholic institutions, in manifold ways violating fair play:

* Media accounts on Maryville have repeated the mantra of “suicide, sexual assaults, beatings, drugs, runaways, etc.” often without numbering or dating these incidents, or publishing their number within the entire DCFS system to provide proper context.

* News accounts now devote significant space to editorializing on Maryville and rehashing old charges. When in late August, 2003 the Catholic New World contained an insert on behalf of Maryville, the Sun-Times and Tribune countered by devoting an entire weekend to repetitive stories about a non-event, the decision of the Maryville board not to attack Maryville critics via a media consultant.

* Numerous press accounts on Maryville gave the final paragraph to the ACLU’s Ben Wolf, and clearly reflected his point of view throughout.

* The media and DCFS have blamed Maryville for runaways in several articles for months, but only recently did the press reveal that the DCFS director maintained a statewide policy of allowing children the freedom to run away from institutions by mandating doors be unlocked.

* Headlines blared about the federal investigation into Maryville on Medicaid reporting, but there is not a major university or hospital in Chicago that has not been so investigated and disciplined. Because of the sheer complexity of tax and Medicaid regulation, few could withstand an audit. The Tribune Co. should know this very well, since it has itself been audited and hauled into federal tax court, as reported by the Sun-Times on 11/28/02, to face a $551 million tax liability on the acquisition of Times-Mirror Corp.

* Editorialists on Maryville have naively misunderstood their own role in the social service institution life-cycle. Charitable institutions, whether for the mentally ill, dependent children, or the homeless, serve a social control function–to take the poor off the streets and thereby make them invisible. Then the poor become so numerous in institutions that these become expensive and visible. Then the poor are scattered, in order to make them invisible and cheap to “assist” again. Then the cycle repeats, with help from editorialists who follow the Dilbert principle: “Decentralize what is centralized, and centralize what is decentralized, and you’ll look like an organizational genius.”

Unless he has clearly broken the law, Fr. John Smyth has earned the right after 42 years to remain at Maryville. The public debate about Maryville has revealed many hidden agendas, and forced actors in the drama out into the open, muting their power. Some good will surely come from this.

Peace of Christ,

Albert Schorsch, III

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© Copyright 2002, 2003, 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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