CHICAGO (CBS) — Who failed A.J. Freund? His parents are arrested and charged in his death and accused of hiding his body. But they weren’t the only ones involved in his life.
A.J. was born into the care of the Department of Children and Family Services. He wasn’t returned to his family for more than a year.
“They should have never given that kid back,” said Megan Haler, a local parent. “He would probably be alive today if they didn’t.”
Police reports from December 18 show that officers detailed the horrible conditions they found inside the Freund family home. It was cold and in disrepair with dog feces everywhere. The smell inside the boys’ bedroom was overwhelming. One of them was bruised.
On the same day a note from DCFS shows an investigation into an allegation of abuse and neglect was unfounded.
According to police reports, the same officers that detailed the conditions inside brought JoAnn Cunningham and her two sons back to the police department. They called a DCFS case worker in, too, to check out the bruise. That case worker “interviewed both boys” and “was unable to determine the cause of the bruise.”
Cunningham was told to take them to a doctor.
Two days later that case worker “advised he had spoken with the doctor” and “was unable to determine the cause of the bruise. She advised him it could have been from a dog, a football, a belt.”
The report does not mention any other followup.
“If they would have placed him in a home where somebody could love him, he would have known what it was like to be loved because clearly he wasn’t loved there,” Haler said.
A.J.’s case is the latest in a long list of child death investigations involving DCFS.
A total of 98 children who were somehow known to child welfare agencies died in the state of Illinois in 2018, according to a report by the Inspector General in January.
The following are several other recent cases:
Two-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons was covered with new and old bruises when he was brought to the hospital on March 18, where he died less than an hour later. But the Department of Children and Family Services worker assigned to the case didn’t note the old bruises because it appears the employee initially lied in reports about actually seeing him. Ja’hir was allegedly beaten to death at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend.
Following his case Gov. JB Pritzker ordered an independent review of DCFS and nominated a new director.
- Governor Pritzker Names New DCFS Director, Following Deaths Of 2 Toddlers; Orders Independent Review
- Gov. JB Pritzker Says DCFS Case Workers Need More Training Following Death Of Ja’hir Gibbons
- Death Of 2-Year-Old Ja’hir Gibbons Is Most Recent In Allegations Of DCFS Falsifying Records
Little Village Fire Victims:
After 10 children were killed in a house fire in Little Village in August 2018 , several DCFS investigations surfaced involving all of the families. Investigators believe the victims, aged 3 months to 16 years, may have been at a sleepover when the fire broke out, with no parental supervision.
Three of the four mothers of children who died have prior contact with DCFS. Officials say Yolanda Ayala, who lost five of her nine children in the blaze, was the subject of 21 prior DCFS investigations, most for inadequate supervision beginning in 2004 with the most recent in March 2018. A DCFS report says most were ruled unfounded.
Sonya Carrillo, who lost her 16-year-old son Victor Mendoza in the fire, also has a lengthy DCFS history from 1996 to 2016. There were at least six prior investigations, most for inadequate supervision. In two cases, DCFS found credible evidence existed to back the claim.
A DCFS official, however, says none of the individual reports rose to the level of removing the children from their parents.
DCFS says Ayala and Carrillo, along with Leticia Reyes and Pricilla Cobos, are all currently being investigated for neglect because of the fire.
Child Locked In Waukegan Basement:
In July 2018 DCFS took away four children living in a Waukegan home after authorities found a 10-year-old allegedly held captive in the family’s basement for several months. According to documents, DCFS has dealt with the family before. Police say the 10-year-old was forced to use a bucket to bathe and a portable potty-training toilet to use the bathroom. Randy and Katherine Swopes were arrested and charged with unlawful restraint and child endangerment. Police and prosecutors said they kept their 10-year-old daughter locked in the basement, believing she was possessed by a demon.
The Swopes were well known to the Department of Child and Family Services. At one point, all eight kids were taken away from them and then returned.