Boy, 5, found covered in bruises in same apartment 2-year-old died from child abuse

CHICAGO — After a 2-year-old boy died at a Washington Park apartment on Monday, another child was found in the same apartment covered in bruises.

The Chicago Tribune said the 5-year-old boy was taken to Comer Children's Hospital, where his condition was stabilized.

Charges are still pending for two people taken into custody Tuesday in connection to the death of 2-year-old Ja'hir Gibbons. Ja’hir died Monday evening in the 6000 block of South Prairie Avenue in the Washington Park neighborhood. The medical examiner’s office said he died of multiple injuries stemming from child abuse and deemed his death a homicide.

One neighbor said she heard a lot of commotion both Saturday and Monday evening and called police both times to report it.

“I heard hollering, screaming, crying, then I didn’t hear anything,” the neighbor said. “A little while later, I heard someone coming down the hallway screaming ‘Help! He’s not breathing, he’s not breathing.’ The neighbor tried to give him CPR and called the ambulance, but I guess he didn’t make it. He looked horrible. He was blue faced. It was ridiculous.”

His death is once again shinning the spotlight on the Department of Child and Family Services and the challenges it faces when it comes to protecting children under its care. Neighbors said DCFS was at the building Saturday to investigate a complaint of abuse.

DCFS issued the following statement:

“The death of Jahir Gibbons is an unacceptable loss and all of us at DCFS are deeply saddened by this tragedy. We are conducting a full investigating of this death to understand how and why this occurred. As we move forward, DCFS is deeply committed to working with the new administration to comprehensively review our practices, increase our frontline staff, and better serve our state’s most vulnerable children and families.”

The agency said their previous involvement with Ja'hir's family dates back to 2010 and concerned allegations of abuse and neglect related his siblings.

DCFS said their most recent involvement began in October 2018 and related to an allegation of abuse involving Ja'hir and his mother. DCFS said their services included home visits, individual therapy for the mother, and speech and developmental therapy for Ja'hir. They said the services were ongoing at the time of the child's death.

The most recent DCFS visit occurred on Saturday when the agency contracted by DCFS to provide services, reported the children to be safe.

DCFS said they are putting together a complete timeline of their involvement with the family.

“This problem of children dying when DCFS has involvement in the home has really skyrocketed in the last three or four years,” Charles Golbert, acting Cook County Public Guardian, said.

Golbert is the acting cook county public guardian. He pointed out DCFS’s own inspector general found between July of 2017 and June of last year there were 98 deaths of children in DCFS care. Eighteen were homicides, 26 were undetermined. Of the 98 deaths, 34 were under the age of three. Among them was 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, the Joliet Township toddler who was found dead under a couch in an overcrowded, filthy, insect-infested home.

“The problem is these cases of child deaths did not ever come into court and the children never had a lawyer appointed to protect them and they never had a judge or the court supervising their case,” Golbert said. “Very serious structural issues that no one has been able to address because there hasn’t been consistent leadership,” Golbert said.

There have been 12 directors in the past 10 years, half have been interim, two left amid ethics scandals, while others left for a variety of reason. As of right now, the agency is yet again without a leader as the newly installed Pritzker administration conducts a nationwide search.

“The issue is finding someone who’s going to be a long term director with vision and innovation and creativity and put a team in place for the long term to tackle these issues,” Golbert said.

Ja’hir’s death comes as the legislature is holding hearings on this very issue, looking at DCFS and its failings when it comes to children in its care.

The two people in custody have not been identified.

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