Child advocacy officials don’t want people to get discouraged after AJ case

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CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. — Last year, nearly 200,000 calls were placed to the Department of Children and Family Services. Over 60,000 of them were for child abuse or neglect.

The needs are great, but the funds are low. When a case like Andrew “AJ” Freund’s slips through the cracks, outsiders demand answers.

Statistically speaking, the horrifying case involving AJ is considered rare. But still, the brutal nature of it doesn’t make it any easier and doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.

Char Rivette, the executive director for the Children’s Advocacy Center, said she doesn’t want people to get discouraged about the system and not call.

However, people did call about the Freund family and tried to get help repeatedly.

“I’m glad talking to the neighbors I was not the only one. Every single neighbor has called. More than once. Every single one,” Janelle Butler, a neighbor of the family, said.

Crystal Lake residents living near the Freund family  were more than discouraged after AJ was found dead and his parents were charged with his murder.

Rivette works hand-in-hand with DCFS every day at the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center where law enforcement and social services work hand-in-hand. There are 39 facilities like this around Illinois and over 800 around the country.

Rivette agreed that DCFS is underfunded and overwhelmed, but set up the way it should be: to protect children first and keep families together when possible.

Randy Burton, the founder of Justice for Children, a nonprofit out of Houston, said DCFS’ priorities are upside down. He wants the victim’s well-being to be first, knocking down the old theory of keeping families together.

“If you had something like this happen to you as an adult, you wouldn’t call adult protective services or a civil agency that investigates in days. Law enforcement is there in minutes,” Burton said in an interview with WGN Morning News.

He called the routine protection and services for children nationwide inadequate.

“The best possible way for these kids to be protected is skilled staff with small caseloads,” Rivette said.

The inspector general at DCFS said that’s not the case.

When it comes to Illinois child protective cases, DCFS case workers are juggling anywhere from 12 to 15 newly assigned cases at any given time, while also managing somewhere between five and over 40 additional pending cases.

DCFS would like to see the new caseload closer to 10 per case worker, not 12 to 15.

There is also a high turnover rate. Yet, proper protocol for reporting child abuse of any sort is to call DCFS.

“Don’t let your frustration get in the way of saving a child’s life,” Rivette said. “Use this as a lesson and let’s learn what went wrong,” Rivette said. “Each time DCFS were called and police were called, that deserves in depth analysis.”

There is a Children’s Advocacy Center in McHenry County, but it is unlikely the non-profit was called in regard to the AJ case, because the alleged abuse was not sexual in nature.

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