CHICAGO (CBS) — In the last two years alone, there have been at least five major incidents involving the Department of Children and Family Services in terms of the agency’s failures.
In April of 2017, DCFS visited the home of Semaj Crosby just two days before she was found dead under a couch.
In July 2018, a 10-year-old girl was found captive in her Waukegan basement for months. DCFS had previously removed other children from the parents.
A month later, 10 children died in a fire in Little Village. Three of their mothers had histories with DCFS. One was investigated 21 times.
And in March of this year, two-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons died covered in bruises after a caseworker apparently lied about seeing him.
And now A.J. Freund.
CBS 2’s political reporter Derrick Blakley talked exclusively with Illinois Governor JB Pritzker about his plans for DCFS.
The tragic murder of five-year-old Andrew “A.J.” Freund left Governor JB Pritzker all but speechless.
“This child was killed by his parents. There aren’t words to describe how I feel,” Pritzker said.
And equally troubling is whether DCFS could have done more while interacting with parents Joann Cunningham and Andrew Freund.
“There’s a long history with these parents and this child. But what we don’t know yet, we’re looking into it, is what happened that changed, that allowed in December there to be less supervision by DCFS,” Pritzker said.
DCFS closed its case with A.J.’s family on December 18th, when then-governor Bruce Rauner was still in charge. Now, Pritzker has brought in Chapin Hall, a Univeristy of Chicago child welfare think tank for a top-to-bottom review of DCFS.
And he’s hiring 126 new case workers and increasing the agency’s budget by 75 million dollars. Both moves cautiously applauded by Republican Illinois State Representative Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst.)
“If the money’s going to be used effectively, if the money’s going to be used wisely, then I’m absolutely in favor of increased funding,” Mazzochi said. “What I’m not in favor of though, is funding failure.”
But Chapin Hall also notes “Illinois has a high threshold for child removal. Safe implementation of this threshold depends on the use of accurate and sensitive tools for detecting safety threats and risk…”
In other words, under current law and policy, it’s not easy to remove kids from their parents.
When asked if DCFS dropped the ball, Pritzker said “we’re looking into it. We want to make sure we have all the facts.”
The governor added that he hopes law enforcement does a thorough job and that if A.J.’s parents are found guilty, he hopes they throw the book at them.
Meantime, Illinois State Representative David Sweeney, a Barrington Republican, has gone further: He’s calling for a return of the death penalty.