Children’s tragic deaths turned the spotlight on failures at DCFS

This is the first of a series of stories by WGN-TV taking a look at DCFS, issues facing the agency, and plans for reform.

CHICAGO — As cases of children facing abuse and losing their lives continue to stun the public, lawmakers are looking for answers from the government agency tasked with keeping them safe: the Department of Children and Family Services.

The deaths of 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, 2-year-old Ja’hir Gibbons and 5-year-old AJ Freund brought issues at the agency to the forefront. In case after case, the children lost their lives even after DCFS had been called out help.

State Senator Julie Morrison has taken the lead on trying to reform the agency and will be meeting with a group of lawmakers this summer to come up with some potential fixes.

She says the DCFS hotline is one program that needs to be studied.

“Even physicians when they would call DCFS hotline to make a report, it would be 12 to 24 hours before they got to speak to somebody,” Morrison said.

James McIntyre, Illinois Chapter of the Foster Care Alumni Association, says a lack of funding is partly to blame as the state has suffered "across-the-board" cuts for 10 years. This year, the agency got a nearly $90 million boost to its budget to hire new investigators and improve training.

McIntyre argues that although funding will help, that should only be part of the fix. He says removing kids from dangerous homes and placing them in foster care should be another piece of the puzzle.

“We are not taking in kids. We are the lowest in the nation of taking in kids and that was something that we used to be proud of,” McIntyre said.

Meanwhile, the fallout from many of the child abuse cases continues. The family of  Ja’hir Gibbons has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against one of the social service agencies hired by DCFS to work on his case, claiming negligence led to the boy’s death.

The Office of the Inspector General’s report on that case is expected to be released sometime soon.

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