By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
Ron Moorman, CEO of the Child Care Association, says the trouble was that psychiatric units in Illinois were 95 percent full and unlocked residential facilities -- housing 4,300 youth at the time -- couldn't handle the needs of the state's most disturbed kids. What Moorman's group and DCFS wanted to find out was whether all of the kids in residential care really needed to be there. If it was determined that some would do better in a foster home or some other form of placement, their being moved would open up desperately needed space.
"We just felt that where at all possible, those children ought to be placed in state as close to their families and communities as possible," Moorman says.
But there would still be a lack of secured psychiatric units, and a plot started unfolding in Carl's mind. Sending kids out of state was not an alternative anyone, including DCFS, lauded as healthy. These were kids who would someday come of age and be returned to the communities they came from -- communities that neither knew nor wanted these institutionalized, mentally vexed, severely screwed-up young adults.
"It was clear to me that there wasn't an acute residential facility in Southern Illinois, a long-term place to treat these kids," Carl says. "So, being a businessman, I thought, "This is a no-brainer.'"
Meanwhile, Marcus was operating a private counseling service in Belleville, Ill. He was a well-respected child psychotherapist, known for his ability to get kids to open up and talk. But most of his clients lived at home, and for years Marcus worried about the number of children the state was sending to locked institutions. "For 20 years I knew there was a need, but I had no idea how to go about fixing it," Marcus says.
When Marcus and Carl met, after Marcus took a clinical position at the St. Charles facility, they found that their philosophies melded like a hand of aces. Both men were well educated, well paid and well endowed with professional skill. Both were parents of teenagers themselves, and both understood the short time it took for kids to grow up. If they could bring the out-of-state kids back home before it was too late, they might be able to salvage what time was left.
What was needed, they decided, was an acute-care psychiatric residential facility that would take in 12- to 18-year-old boys. The treatment would home in on preparing the kids for independent living when they turned 18 or, at the very least, prepare them for the transition down to foster or group homes.
To sell the idea to the state, Carl knew, it would have to be cost-effective, would have to be pitched as an alternative to expensive, long-term care. To do that, he and Marcus would work on intensive treatment programs incorporating everything from psychotherapy to art and music lessons. The boys would learn how to cook, wash their clothes and fill out job applications. Just buying a pair of shoes in a store was something most of these kids never experienced.
It was a simple plan -- a desperately needed, easily accomplished project. All they had to do was secure a contract with DCFS. And the state, at first, seemed supportive.
"When we had the initial discussions with Dr. Marcus and Tim Carl regarding the opening of this, the population we were looking at were some of the most seriously emotionally disturbed children that we were placing outside of the state of Illinois," says Jerry Slomka, deputy director of the Division of Operations for DCFS. "At that time, we had goals of first reducing our reliance on out-of-state placements; secondly, to place those children closer to the areas where they lived; and thirdly, to reduce our population overall in residential care."
Marcus and Carl decided that in order to get the project moving, they would have to devote more time to it than they currently had to spare. Because both had saved enough money to live on for a few months, they left their positions at the St. Charles facility, and Marcus drastically reduced the number of clients he was seeing in Belleville.
"I was petrified," Carl says, "but I knew the opportunity was there and I knew the need was there. It was just a matter of having the belief and the courage to take a chance and do it."
But, as Carl and Marcus would find out, belief and courage were warm and fuzzy concepts. Reality was more like electrified barbed wire.
The scant weeks Marcus and Carl thought it would take to get the initial approval turned into months -- five of them. There were meetings, proposal revamps, more meetings and long periods of nothing at all. It was December 1997 before the southern region of DCFS set a tentative opening date of April 1998.
After that, the two men thought, it was just a matter of submitting a budget and getting final approval at the state level. The project consumed them. Every resource, every weekend, every ounce of energy went hurtling toward it.
They felt they were in a race with time. Every day that the out-of-state kids were away was one fewer day Marcus and Carl had to help them. Considering the kids' backgrounds, every day counted.