Suit Cites Violations of the Fair Housing Act relating to the state’s first children’s quarantine center for DCFS Wards affected by COVID-19
May 12, 2020 – Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness, Inc. today filed a federal lawsuit charging the Village of Midlothian with violating the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act relating to the agency’s operation and opening of the state’s first children’s quarantine center for Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) youth in care affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit charges the Village with the discriminatory application of its ordinances.
In mid-March, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) responded to the growing spread of COVID-19 by asking child welfare organizations about their capacity to safely care for youth known to have been exposed to the virus. Aunt Martha’s answered the state’s call with a program that was recently mentioned by Governor JB Pritzker at one of his daily press conferences.
That program, the Children’s Quarantine Center (CQC), leverages Aunt Martha’s status as the only organization in Illinois to be both a licensed child welfare provider and Federally Qualified Health Center. It provides the children who have tested positive for COVID-19 with a home-like setting where the children can be cared for and supervised around the clock until they can safely return to their prior placement.
Despite language in its zoning code that specifically allows for minors and wards of the Court (such as youth in DCFS care) to be housed there, the Village has insisted that the CQC will not be allowed to accept anyone under the age of 18 under any circumstances.
“We believe the actions of the Village of Midlothian violate federal law,” said Raul Garza, Aunt Martha’s President and CEO. “Aunt Martha’s has been a good neighbor at this location for more than eight years. We hope the Village does not turn its back on the children in the face of a global crisis that demands compassion, collaboration and accommodation,” continued Mr. Garza.
Since 2012, Aunt Martha’s has operated the single-family home in Midlothian, the same dwelling that will house the CQC, as a supportive and transitional housing program for homeless young adults. The agency has made significant investments in recent weeks to equip the home to serve COVID-19 exposed and infected children. In addition to redesigning the space to accommodate and isolate the children placed there, preparing the CQC required the installation of a negative pressure ventilation system to control the spread of airborne pathogens.
Last month, the home passed an inspection by the state fire marshal and was also inspected and licensed to operate by DCFS. It also previously had passed a safety inspection by the Midlothian Fire Department in August 2019.
“The need for our program is immediate. Over the past few weeks DCFS has reached out to Aunt Martha’s for help in caring for youth ranging from asymptomatic teens to children with special needs.” said Garza.