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Two former DCFS employees arrested in connection with AJ Freund case

Friday, Sep 11, 2020

* Northwest Herald

A pair of former child welfare employees who had prior contact with slain Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund and his family were arrested Thursday on child endangerment charges.

McHenry County Board member and former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees Carlos Acosta, 54, was arrested and charged with two felony counts of endangering the life of a child and one felony count of reckless conduct.

Also arrested was Acosta’s former supervisor, Andrew Polovin, 48, of Island Lake, on the same charges, according to the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office. […]

“We’ve definitely seen the work of DCFS in the number of cases that they’re referring to us [and] the quality of the work has improved,” [McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally] said.

Both bonded out last night.

* NBC 5

Acosta was the child protection specialist assigned to check a December 2018 call from Crystal Lake police about a bruise on Freund’s right hip. The boy gave varying explanations for the injury, including that the family dog had done it during play. But records show he also told an emergency room doctor, “Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”

Acosta said in December that he followed protocol in not going back to question the child about the bruise and that the child’s injuries didn’t meet the threshold to get a second opinion from a pediatric specialist.

Acosta previously said he’s emotionally torn but stands by his decisions.

“I don’t deny the fact that I was there four months before and that’s something that I’m going to have to live with forever,” Acosta told Shaw Media Illinois in an interview late last year. “And again, should have, could have, would have. Did I still follow the policy and weigh the evidence that I had at the time? Yes.”

* Tribune

(F)ormer DCFS Inspector General Meryl Paniak had recommended their termination for their handling of the December 2018 hotline investigation. The inspector general report, which focused on the agency’s handling of the December hotline investigation and an earlier one from March in which Acosta was not involved, found the employees “failed to see the totality” of the troubled history of AJ’s family and missed opportunities to intervene.

Acosta was carrying a caseload above what is allowed under a federal consent decree at the time of their contact with AJ’s family, a systemic problem that has long vexed DCFS and that child welfare advocates say puts vulnerable children at further risk, the Tribune has reported.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

32 Comments »
  1. - Frumpy White Guy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:13 am:

    Good


  2. - Dutch - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:22 am:

    There will never be a positive cultural change at DCFS until senior leadership and the legislators are held accountable too.


  3. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:24 am:

    Prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, let the accused be judged, let the law and facts have their day.

    Also, in court, a clear and accurate accounting of what happened, and how this tragedy occurred, that needs to be heard in a court of law as well.


  4. - SSL - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:25 am:

    A flawed system and an overloaded case worker. Brutal.


  5. - Springfieldish - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:39 am:

    Yeah, this is going to send qualified applicants flocking to DCFS to be caseworkers.


  6. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:43 am:

    ===this is going to send qualified applicants flocking to DCFS to be caseworkers.===

    So don’t prosecute because… “job applicants”

    That’s an odd way to deny justice to AJ Freund


  7. - Tommydanger - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    On a side note, this is an example of the need for bail reform. It is hard to imagine why a cash bond should have been set against the workers. Likely no previous criminal history; have ties to the community in which they live; likely to make all court appearances and unlikely to commit any new offenses while the case is pending. They are entitled to their presumption of innocence and upon a plea or finding of guilty would likely be placed on probation.


  8. - Jibba - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    I suppose this is why they have trials, since none of us likely knows all the facts. For me, justice for AJ is to jail his killers. Dealing with the failed oversight system seems to be a civil matter. A doctor wouldn’t go to jail for failing “to see the totality” of your medical situation, but there would be an award.


  9. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:06 am:

    DCFS is partly the result of an early attempt to defund police. They moved investigations from police to social workers.

    Would like to know the disciplinary history on these two. It is very hard to get bad caseworkers out of DCFS. They work remotely with little direct observation.


  10. - Matthew Dean - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:08 am:

    Good! I hope Acosta resigns from his position on the McHenry County Board immediately! Although I do have doubts that Jack Franks as Chairman will hold him accountable.


  11. - @misterjayem - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:12 am:

    “DCFS is partly the result of an early attempt to defund police. They moved investigations from police to social workers.”

    Because, even accounting for this tragedy, police were and are far, far worse at determining whether and how to protect a child and family in crisis.

    – MrJM


  12. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:17 am:

    ==Acosta was carrying a caseload above what is allowed under a federal consent decree==

    I do not know enough about this caseworker, their case load, or their prior work history to say whether or not prosecution is appropriate, but I have some serious concerns about this…

    ===this is going to send qualified applicants flocking to DCFS to be caseworkers.===

    ===So don’t prosecute because… “job applicants”===

    Would you apply to be a caseworker knowing that you will be given too many cases to actually follow and then fired and subjected to prosecution when something bad happens? Who would?


  13. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:19 am:

    === Would you apply to be a caseworker knowing that you will be given too many cases to actually follow and then fired and subjected to prosecution when something bad happens? Who would?===

    So the question remains…

    So don’t prosecute?

    That’s an incredibly odd way to look at this…

    …“think of the applicants”?


  14. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:21 am:

    This too…

    === Also, in court, a clear and accurate accounting of what happened, and how this tragedy occurred, that needs to be heard in a court of law as well.===

    I’m accounting for the defense argument of overloading cases and the systematic failure outside the defendants.


  15. - Former DCFS - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:25 am:

    Former DCFS employee here in a non-clinical role.

    Look at this article in conjunction with the article about psych hospitalizations (or any other DCFS article). They are replete with the same issues over and over again. Overworked caseworkers, understaffed agencies, high turnover. DCFS is expected to be perfect all the time because yes, their actions can have life and death impacts on children and families.

    But they aren’t treated with the same respect or given the same resources as doctors, police, military, etc.

    And it isn’t just the employees. Evidence shows that increasing the foster care payment to foster families will bring in more foster parents, ones who otherwise would not be willing to give up a career to take care of kids who may have significant special needs, or mental health issues.

    In one respect DCFS and the police are the same: They are expected to solve problems that have been sometimes generations in the making, and it is just impossible to do. But no one ever wants to put serious effort into spending money on ‘preventative care’, so to speak.


  16. - Frank talks - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:27 am:

    Didn’t DCFS offer bonuses in the form of gift cards to close as many cases as possible? Leadership from the top. Btw what happened to charges in the Semaj Crosby case? 10 times DCFS was there, don’t recall criminal charges against supervisor offering incentives to close cases or the case workers?
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.chicagotribune.com/news/breaking/ct-dcfs-contest-met-20170526-story.html%3foutputType=amp


  17. - Paul S - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 11:37 am:

    So this happens in the case of AJ, what about the other 100+ children (many of them minorities who didn’t get the press that AJ got) who died in DCFS care last year? Where are those individuals being held accountable?


  18. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 12:25 pm:

    Mr. JM. I agree that caseworkers are generally better than police.


  19. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 1:00 pm:

    ==So the question remains…So don’t prosecute?==

    The question is: prosecute who? Those directly responsible? (the parents) Of course. The caseworker? Not so clear.

    Hire someone, give them too many cases to follow and then prosecute them for not doing what was not possible? How does that help anyone? Who would apply for that job? Then what happens? More overloading of fewer caseworkers…

    I do not know enough about the details of the case, but sorting it out in court? C’mon. It is unlikely the caseworker will have the resources top mount a defense, so the caseworker agrees to a plea because that is all they can afford. It does not address any of the important concerns; it creates a scapegoat and allows DCFS to move on without addressing the issues that resulted in a death. In addition, it exacerbates the problem of large caseloads because who wants to take the risk that they will be the next overloaded caseworker who “failed to see the totality” and is then not only out of a job, but in court, in debt, etc…

    I understand the need for justice. But the court system does not dole out “justice” unless you can afford it. (A whole other topic, but reality.)


  20. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 1:02 pm:

    === The caseworker? Not so clear.===

    Clear enough for an indictment and arrest.

    Guilt is on the table.


  21. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 1:06 pm:

    === Hire someone, give them too many cases to follow and then prosecute them for not doing what was not possible? How does that help anyone? Who would apply for that job? Then what happens? More overloading of fewer caseworkers…===

    So let pass the negligence?

    Hmm. Dunno about that.

    Deciding not to prosecute because of job applicants isn’t an argument that sounds like one seeking justice for AJ Freund.

    Nope.

    === It is unlikely the caseworker will have the resources top mount a defense, so the caseworker agrees to a plea because that is all they can afford===

    Good thing we have in this country…

    “If you can’t afford an attorney… “

    … in that Miranda rights when arrested, since representation apparently is a right those taken into custody can have.


  22. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 2:29 pm:

    === DCFS is partly the result of an early attempt to defund police. They moved investigations from police to social workers. ===

    Wrong.

    1. Police and prosecutors have long ignored child abuse and neglect until there is a dead body.

    2. DCFS funding has been deeply cut over the past two decades while law enforcement funding has been largely shielded from spending cuts.

    There is no question that preventing child abuse and neglect would reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, diverting both perpetrators and victims of trauma from the justice system.

    A robust system has been hampered on the right by those who believe government should allow adults to misparent to their heart’s content. And also those on the left who believe that kids like AJ are better off with their biological parents than in foster care.


  23. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 2:49 pm:

    ==seeking justice for AJ Freund==

    Not clear how prosecuting an overloaded caseworker gets “justice” for anyone. In some months, the overload exceeded the federal consent decree by 50-75%. Would “justice” have been served if the caseworker had refused to take on the extra cases or quit? If you want “justice,” I think you want the DCFS to hire enough caseworkers so the next AJ is not missed. How many folks want a job where they will be set up to fail and then prosecuted for that failure?

    ==Good thing we have in this country… “If you can’t afford an attorney… “==

    Time for another discussion about how folks with a workload that exceeds their capabilities maybe cannot do all we ask them to. How much time does a public defender have to devote to each case? What does the defense “team” look like for each case in the public defender’s office? If that public defender cannot provide a robust defense for each client, should they be disbarred? Would that be “justice” for the person who lost their case?


  24. - PrairieChicken - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 2:52 pm:

    Acosta had just been elected to the McHenry County Board, a job he campaigned for and which paid him an additional $21K per annum plus benefits when all of this went down. As a newly minted Board Member, he would have had his hands full trying to acclimate to the new position. This on top of having a case load at DCFS that was excessive. Why, Oh Why do you run for and assume a time consuming elective office when you are already overworked at your day job and have life and death responsibilities there? That’s what I would like to know?


  25. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 2:57 pm:

    === Would “justice” have been served if the caseworker had refused to take on the extra cases or quit? If you want “justice,” I think you want the DCFS to hire enough caseworkers so the next AJ is not missed. How many folks want a job where they will be set up to fail and then prosecuted for that failure?===

    I’m sure that will be their defense, but deciding to absolve the indicted so people will work for DCFS isn’t… by any measure… getting justice for AJ Freund.

    They can make their case in court.

    === How much time does a public defender have to devote to each case? What does the defense “team” look like for each case in the public defender’s office? If that public defender cannot provide a robust defense for each client, should they be disbarred?===

    So you’re conceding the point they can get an attorney?

    There was cause for indictment.

    The possible employment of future employees seems like an odd way to absolve the indicted from prosecution.

    The court(s) will decide.

    Telling the jury “acquit or no one will work for DCFS” might be a weak closing argument too


  26. - Chatham Resident - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 3:10 pm:

    ==Good! I hope Acosta resigns from his position on the McHenry County Board immediately! Although I do have doubts that Jack Franks as Chairman will hold him accountable.==

    Franks is now among those calling for Acosta’s resignation:

    https://www.dailyherald.com/news/20200911/mchenry-county-board-board-chairman-candidates-want-acosta-to-resign


  27. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 3:43 pm:

    ==They can make their case in court.==

    Maybe, but not if they cannot afford a robust (or even adequate) defense.

    ==So you’re conceding the point they can get an attorney?==

    Getting an attorney is not the same as being able to mount a robust (or even adequate) defense.

    ==There was cause for indictment.==

    My understanding is that there is a relatively low bar for indictment.

    +++++

    The argument I am making is not that no one should be held accountable, nor that a caseworker should not be held responsible. However, where does the responsibility lie when DCFS overloads caseworkers by 50-75%? It seems very likely that overloaded caseworkers will not be able to keep up with all of their cases and children will be hurt. What should the caseworker do? Refuse to take the cases? Quit? How does that help the children?

    So, we prosecute the caseworker…if the caseworker pleas or is convicted, justice is served and we can all be happy? Or is it simply that the caseworker could not mount an adequate defense? How does that help anything?

    If we overload caseworkers by 50-75% and then prosecute them for not being able to do the job, we are likely to have trouble recruiting people for that job. Who could afford to take such a job? Such prosecution does nothing to resolve the underlying problem and could make it worse.

    Please answer this: Where does the responsibility lie when DCFS overloads caseworkers by 50-75%? Caseworkers or the agency? And, if it is the caseworker, what should they do when asked to take on that extra 50-75%? Refuse? Quit? Because if they take on that extra load and miss something…prosecution…


  28. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 4:01 pm:

    === Please answer this: ===

    That’s up to a jury.

    Not me.

    Defending the caseworkers so others will take these jobs, yikes.

    === My understanding is that there is a relatively low bar for indictment.===

    … and yet, it was met.

    If you know of an attorney to recommend to them, maybe the union can front the freight, have at it.

    Your concern for the caseworkers is compelling.

    AJ Freund coulda used that type of robust advocacy(?)


  29. - Pot calling kettle - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 4:16 pm:

    ===That’s up to a jury.==

    Nice deflection.

    ==Your concern for the caseworkers is compelling.==

    My primary concern is for the children. It seems to me that their need is a caseworker who can look out for them. I’m not sure someone with a 50-75% overload can look out for all of their assigned cases. I’m also not sure how prosecuting someone who was 50-75% overloaded helps the situation.

    ==AJ Freund coulda used that type of robust advocacy(?) ==

    Your standards are interesting. Any attorney is fine as long as they get one. Is any caseworker fine as long as they get one?

    Let’s try that question again, because I’m curious. What should a caseworker do when asked to take on that extra 50-75%? Refuse? Quit? Because if they take on that extra load and miss something…prosecution…


  30. - 0_0 - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 4:17 pm:

    WOW. All DCFS employees need to quite their job/find a new job immediately. Not only is the job low pay, but the union is subpar compared to cps and the Chicago police union. The lack of respect the general public has for DCFS employees is crazy. Everyone needs to leave, find a better employer and not a job that so villainized as DCFS.


  31. - 0_0 - Friday, Sep 11, 20 @ 4:21 pm:

    “Let’s try that question again, because I’m curious. What should a caseworker do when asked to take on that extra 50-75%? Refuse? Quit? Because if they take on that extra load and miss something…prosecution…”

    This honestly falls on the weak union. They should be doing their job to protect their workers. If DCFS as the employer breaks the consent decree, there should be accountability. As of right now, no one cares, its just business as usual. The union is to busy lobbying in Springfield to care about the caseworkers on the field.


  32. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 14, 20 @ 9:33 am:

    === Nice deflection.===

    Huh? It will be up to a jury. You don’t like that. Still, it’s not up to me, it’s will be up to a jury

    === My primary concern is for the children.===

    … and yet, collect after comment… “what about people applying for job?”

    That doesn’t sound like a worry for the children.

    The rest?

    The rest is this too.

    === This honestly falls on the weak union. They should be doing their job to protect their workers. If DCFS as the employer breaks the consent decree, there should be accountability. As of right now, no one cares, its just business as usual. The union is to busy lobbying in Springfield to care about the caseworkers on the field.===

    Maybe your beef is with the union.

    The union can hire attorneys for the accused, and make the case that you’re trying to make, but they are indicted, now the union can help make the defense stronger.


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