CHICAGO (CBS) – CBS 2 is investigating the failures that led to the death of five-year-old Andrew “A.J.” Freund.
On Friday DCFS announced it will go back and review any case that had been deemed unfounded for any child three years old or younger. That’s important, because according to the timeline of A.J.’s case, caseworkers investigated hotline reports four times and classified each one unfounded.
Also in the timeline, someone called DCFS reporting odd bruising on A.J.’s face. It took a month until a case worker went to the home and found A.J. to be clean and no signs of maltreatment.
Another report came when A.J. saw a doctor for a large bruise on his right hip. He told the doctor “maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hit me.”
Two weeks later. DCFS said there was not evidence of bruises. Four months later, A.J. was dead and on Friday he was the focus of a hearing in Chicago.
CBS 2 political reporter Derrick Blakley was there.
As newly-appointed DCFS chief Marc Smith prepared for a grilling, the agency’s 12th director in 10 years, Elgin Democrat Anna Moeller saw little A.J. Freund’s death through the prism of her own life.
“It breaks my heart that A.J. didn’t have that similar opportunity in life,” said Illinois State Representative Anna Moeller (D-Elgin.)
The question: Does DCFS lean toward keeping families together even if it puts children at risk?
“Children should be home with their parents, when they can provide them a safe, nurturing home,” said acting DCFS Director Marc Smith.
But Smith said DCFS also places children with relatives or in foster homes when appropriate. But despite four hotline reports of suspected abuse of A.J. over five years, case workers concluded the reports were unfounded in each case.
“What are you going to do as an agency to ensure a case remotely close to this one doesn’t happen again,” asked Illinois State Representative Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville.)
“Your sense of outrage and concern I share 100%,” Smith said.
DCFS has placed A.J.’s case worker and supervisor on administrative duties, removed from child care decisions, while an investigation continues. And case workers will receive “booster training” on decision-making. But lawmakers said foster and adoption services must also be strengthened to provide more viable options.
“If we’re not going to create a stronger system for these families, we’ve really got to revisit removing some of these kids before they get murdered by their parents,” said Illinois State Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago.)
Another DCFS official, Anne Gold, said the agency is reviewing cases that had been deemed unfounded for any child age three or younger.
Which means it won’t include children in A.J.’s age range.
However Gold also did not say hwo far back over what time period the review will look.