* When Gov. JB Pritzker announced that Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, which is a combination of a think tank and a policy implementation consultant, would take a look at DCFS’ problems, the organization sent out a press release containing this passage…
With the lowest foster care entry rate in the nation, Illinois has a high threshold for child removal. Safe implementation of this threshold depends upon the use of accurate and sensitive tools for detecting safety threats and risk, as well as the availability of preventive services to stabilize and support families as they work toward meeting the needs of their children.
* This is again coming to light in the wake of the death of yet another child, AJ Freund, who had been under DCFS oversight…
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which on Friday revealed new details about the case, has limited legal authority to remove a child from a parent’s custody and does so only if it finds an “imminent and immediate” risk of harm. Even its harshest critics concede that not all deaths are preventable, as the overburdened state agency is tasked with the difficult job of trying to predict future human behavior.
* But, I mean, what the heck?…
• [AJ’s mother JoAnn Cunningham] was investigated for child neglect even before AJ was born, when she herself was a foster parent.
• AJ spent the first 18 months of his life in the care of his cousin after being born with opiates in his system.
• Back in his parents’ home on Dole Avenue in Crystal Lake in June 2015, AJ’s family had 17 unannounced visits from DCFS workers and nine scheduled visits, according to DCFS records.
He remained in the home, even after a doctor expressed concern to a DCFS investigator about a large bruise AJ had on his hip that his mom said was caused by the family dog. AJ agreed to that account but commented to the doctor, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe Mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Rep. Tom Weber, a Lake Villa Republican whose district includes the area where AJ lived, focused on the last contact DCFS had with the child before he was reported missing. After initially blaming bruises on the family dog, AJ told emergency room staff, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me,” according to agency records. A DCFS investigator allowed AJ to leave the hospital with his father.
“That sounds like a red flag to me,” Weber said.
“And you are correct,” said Anne Gold, DCFS associate deputy for child protection, acknowledging the agency’s “missed opportunity.”
“We should be getting a second opinion from one of our child abuse experts,” Gold said. “So that piece was missed.”
The “piece was missed” and a child was murdered. Inexcusable.
* Family fights are often the worst fights. DCFS often has to sift through claims and counter-claims made by parents and their relatives during heated custody battles…
Court records show a lengthy and often volatile legal fight between mother and daughter for custody of the boy. The boy’s grandmother outlines her daughter’s history of drug addiction and mental illness as well as her grandson’s own pleas to stay in the grandmother’s home.
Cunningham claims she ran away from her mother’s home at age 15 because of her mother’s “erratic and demeaning treatment” of her. The legal fight lingered for years, but ultimately the grandmother prevailed and retained custody of Cunningham’s oldest son.
You’d think the grandmother’s legal victory would make it easier for DCFS to remove the other two children from the home, but that didn’t happen. AJ was allegedly murdered by his parents and the third child wasn’t removed until after he was reported missing.
Was that due to incompetence (bureaucratic or individual), or restrictive state laws or a combination of both? Probably both.
Representatives on the Illinois house appropriations human services committee blasted that finding on Friday, questioning DCFS leaders as to why the case wasn’t referred to the judicial system, especially given the family’s long history of contact with the agency.
“Wouldn’t this raise red flags immediately?” said Rep. Anna Moeller. “There was no court involved here, DCFS never went to the court to ask he be taken out of that environment. It was allowed to persist.”
* We tend to swing back and forth on the law. For instance, do you remember this case from less than three years ago?…
In a case that challenges racial disparities in the child welfare system, the Family Defense Center on Thursday filed a petition asking the Illinois Supreme Court to review a lower court decision to terminate all parental rights of a 23-year-old Peoria mother. The mother, who is biracial and identifies as lesbian, was found to be “unfit” and her rights to raise her 6-year-old son were terminated primarily because she used marijuana during a nine-month period in 2013 and 2014.
Torie I. and her lawyers at the Family Defense Center are asking the Illinois Supreme Court to determine that the strict legal requirements for the final and permanent severance of the parent-child relationship have not been satisfied. The Center argues that the State presented no evidence as to how Torie’s marijuana use affected her ability to care for her son or had harmed her son. Torie has admitted to smoking cannabis to calm herself, but never in front of her child.
Racial and sexual orientation bias may have played a significant role in the state’s decision to pursue a termination of parental rights, the petition suggests. The Center cites the child removal rate in Peoria County, which is nearly 8 times greater for African American than for families of other races. Torie’s child was placed in foster care with an unrelated, white pre-adoptive family, even though she had a strong bond with the child.
Chapin Hall’s initial report on DCFS is due soon. A legislative rush to judgment would not be advisable.