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*** UPDATED x1 *** DCFS scorched over response to AJ Freund’s death

Friday, Nov 8, 2019

* Back in May

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally complained to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services about the agency’s practices about a year before the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund of Crystal Lake.

In a May 24, 2018, letter to Carole Ruzicks, the senior director of operations for DCFS’ northern region, Kenneally cited three cases in which DCFS workers were uncooperative or remiss in their handling of investigations. From cases where workers refused to show up to hearings because they “would be washing their hair” to a separate instance involving an infant’s heroin overdose, Kenneally’s frustrations with the agency seemed to have come to a head.

* In the Daily Line today

Problems at the McHenry County office of the Department of Children and Family Services “have gotten worse over the last several months, not better” even after the death of 4-year-old AJ Freund, according to the McHenry County state’s attorney.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Line Thursday afternoon, McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally wrote that the DCFS office in Woodstock, the town where Freund’s body was found buried in April after his parents allegedly beat him to death, has not improved in the wake of Freund’s death.

Kenneally is leading the proscecution of JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund Sr., who have been charged with murder.

“The root of the problems…remain the same — a lack of accountability for inadequate performance,” Kenneally wrote in an Oct. 22 letter addressed to lawmakers. “To illustrate this point consider the fact that six months later, DCFS has yet to determine, one way or the other, whether any corrective or disciplinary action is warranted for its response to the December, 2018 complaint involving AJ Freund.” […]

“We have an agency that’s more hung up on process than its mission,” [Rep. Steve Reick. R-Woodstock] told The Daily Line on Thursday. “We have an agency that is more interested or more concerned about making sure that check marks are put into boxes on forms, which may lead to one conclusion or another, but as long as it leads to the conclusion that they did what they were supposed to according to own procedures and protocols, what happens to the kid really doesn’t matter.”

*** UPDATE *** Oh, man

Illinois’ child welfare agency is investigating why two teenagers in its custody were handcuffed and shackled at their feet while being driven from one youth shelter to another living arrangement, authorities confirmed Thursday.

The youths, 15 and 17, were driven in separate trips on Oct. 1 by a private contractor, according to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Both were restrained for about 30 miles as they were moved from a shelter in Chicago to a new placement in Palatine.

“The use of restraints in this case was totally unacceptable and against department policy,” spokesman Jassen Strokosch said in a statement. “DCFS is investigating the incident and putting additional policies and procedures in place immediately to ensure youth are never restrained during transport unless it is clinically necessary.” […]

“This is not a penal system,” [Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert] said. “The foster care system is different from a penal system. It’s not intended to punish children. Handcuffs and shackles are for adult criminals from whom the public needs to be protected.” […]

State law prohibits minors from being “subjected to mechanical restraints” in any facility licensed by DCFS.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

14 Comments »
  1. - mcdouble - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 9:41 am:

    Tough to read about that Freund case. Heads should roll over that.


  2. - NoGifts - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:03 am:

    Done correctly, the process is guided by the mission and helps employees do the correct things to achieve the mission. If the process isn’t doing that, then it needs to be changed.


  3. - SSL - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:16 am:

    I agree NoGifts. There needs to be process and procedures that work. You can’t have employees making this stuff up as they go along.

    It would also be appropriate to have an escalation process that would require manager involvement. The mission of this department is too important. Get it together.


  4. - Bertrum Cates - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:23 am:

    Putting check marks in boxes and following procedures is how agencies are held accountable. Not following procedures set down by management often trips audit findings, disciplinary action, and outlandish political rhetoric that might suggest the front-line staff does not care about “the kid.”

    If the P&P manual is so restrictive, then the basic framework creates an environment that does not allow for adaptive measures.

    That is on management.


  5. - GADawg - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    I know many DCFS employees who work hard at their jobs, often overworked and under appreciated. But it is easier for those at a higher level than the local office to shift incompetents around than it is to show them the door. That process needs to change, too.


  6. - Responsa - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:35 am:

    Certain events are so stunningly sad and egregious that they constitute an absolute clarion call for change. The death of poor AJ is one of those. If under his spotlight DCFS does not make obvious and immediate changes to their system processes and personnel processes then there really is no hope.


  7. - RNUG - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 10:51 am:

    == “We have an agency that’s more hung up on process than its mission,” [Rep. Steve Reick. R-Woodstock] told The Daily Line on Thursday. “We have an agency that is more interested or more concerned about making sure that check marks are put into boxes ==

    That is what you get when you are operating under court orders.

    If the process isn’t working, change the process … maybe with some front line input from people that know how the process is or is not working. And while you are at it, add automatic escalation procedures … something I think I have previously suggested be done.


  8. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    Governors own.

    They ALWAYS do. Always.

    There needs to be a reckoning at the agency and this administration must be proactively making the changes that see results to gain the trust of the public.

    IDOC, DNR, IDOT… DCFS…

    As an administration you must, unequivocally must, understand that those places will sink your perceived governing by actual stories and incidents.

    These things are unacceptable. Not only do better, but get in the game to make things better.

    Now.


  9. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 11:16 am:

    Its been 6 months and they still haven’t disciplined anyone in that horrible Freund case? That’s absurd, and should be an embarrassment to everyone working in that agency from the Director down to the receptionists. Employees who are “uncooperative or remiss in their handling of investigations” need to be fired. Not given verbal warnings, not given written warnings, not suspended for a day - fired. Management needs to have the juevos to fire these people for cause, even if it does mean a fight with afscme.


  10. - pawn - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    In the AJ case, it is worth asking what role race and class played in the inability of DCFS to recognize and respond to AJ’s peril. I wonder if his parents were not white and his dad was not an attorney, if investigators would have been more quick to respond and remove him from their home.


  11. - MG85 - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 11:39 am:

    ==As an administration you must, unequivocally must, understand that those places will sink your perceived governing by actual stories and incidents.==

    It’s almost as if allies of the Pritzker administration haven’t been screaming for actual change to occur at the agency political appointment level. Oh wait…

    https://capitolfax.com/2019/03/11/pritzker-explains-his-hiring/


  12. - OneMan - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 12:07 pm:

    Whomever figures out how to fix DCFS should be the next person to get a statue on the statehouse grounds.

    I’m ok if you want to tax Whiskey and Burbon to help fix this. Seriously, please designate a specific tax or revenue program just for DCFS (and the state can’t use that an excuse to reduce current funding levels) I will be all for it. Even it is specific to middle aged dudes with IT jobs.

    Hell create a special stratch-off lottery game, I got an A in statistics in grad school and I will still buy the dang tickets.

    Funding and accountabilty both with the force of the fist of an angry god.


  13. - Bertrum Cates - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 2:48 pm:

    Adding a P&P with a point-by-point list of prohibited practices is asking for trouble. For one, it will never be comprehensive enough and could give bad actors a bureaucratic scapegoat when trying to hold them accountable for their actions. A P&P manual that comprehensive is extraordinarily difficult for staff to comprehend and for management to convey to a large, dispersed organization.

    Policy statements are fantastic if management can effectively use them to improve the culture. When was the last time DCFS really - and I mean REALLY - revisited their mission and vision? Could employees at all levels recite in some form what they are without any sort of prompt?

    It is hard and delicate work consisting of careful wording, holistic training, internal communication. Adding to the difficulty of the DCFS situation is the hollowing out of state government, a relentless revolving door of administrators, a discouraged and frustrated workforce, and an immediate need for changes that take time to implement.

    And RNUG is absolutely right: The front-line has to be involved in the transformation. Let’s hope management at all levels can identify properly where that line begins.

    Please do not be mesmerized by the complexity of the situation.


  14. - Cassandra - Friday, Nov 8, 19 @ 2:52 pm:

    Can the DCFS executive simply fire a civil service employee? I doubt it. I presume that unless
    the employee leaves voluntarily following disciplinary charges, there is a process governed by civil service and union rules which could take some time. And if there is a civil suit pending, that could affect time frames. Is the state’s attorney suggesting that the agency’s executive is stalling. I find that really hard to believe given the high publicity surrounding this case.

    Not to say I have any idea if the line employees-apparently a supervisor and two caseworkers, should be fired. We haven’t heard their side and it may not be available to the press. Caseworkers and their supervisors make critical decisions every day. Some of them won’t turn out well and a few will have catastrophic results. But catastrophic results, which are, fortunately, rare, do not necessarily reflect the overall functioning of the agency.


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