Of late, the DCFS (Illinois Department of Children and Family Services) in Chicago has been under fire for not properly enforcing child protection law. For example, children have died despite the fact that the department had already instituted proceedings. Many argue that the law was there to protect the victims, but its enforcement fell way below the standards that were originally envisaged by the legislature when they wrote the law. The case of Manuel Aguilar is harrowing. The 4-year-old was found burned and badly damaged in an abandoned home. The body was so malnourished and wasted that the first responders at first wrongly assumed that he was no older than a year. The lawyers started to unpack the true horror of the story during the proceedings.
The subsequent investigation showed that the victim had spent the best part of a year in an unheated room begging for food and water. He was beaten, starved, and forced to sleep in a cat litter box. His biological mother, Alyssa Garcia, and her teenage boyfriend stuffed the dead body in a bag and set it on fire in an abandoned house. Previously, the DCFS had opened and closed a number of cases relating to the family following complaints of persistent child abuse. An investigation found clerical errors in files and failures to follow up on complaints as well as muddled witness accounts.
Third Parties Who Were Never Interviewed as Part of Child Protection Proceedings
DCFS incompetence is a major problem. The accounts indicate that the DCFS failed to interview or even investigate an intimate partner in the home who had been involved in gang activity. The mother sold the officials a story that she was taking the child to a hospital, but nobody did a follow-up. The siblings had informed an agency caseworker about the abuse, but no investigation was carried out. Indeed, there are signs that, following the publicity over the Aguilar, the DCFS paradoxically started to close cases even faster. They were paying bonuses for cases that were closed within 14 days.
The political appointee Director George Sheldon had not been able to fulfill the remit that was given to him by Governor Bruce Rauner. The mismanagement and faulty implementation of the law continued. The harrowing cases that are coming from Chicago are not unique or isolated. They follow a pattern of legal provisions and practice procedures being ignored for purposes of expediency whilst the victims pay the ultimate price. Many of the homicides that were reported could have been prevented, but the officials who were put in charge of implementing the Chicago law on child protection did not do their work.
Other Instances of Faulty Case Management Come to Light
The case of a 17-month-old baby, Semaj Crosby, is typical of the case management failures. A quality assurance review had to be ordered in order to deal with the fallout from the incident. One of the systemic problems is the focus on cases that are considered to be “serious” or high-profile, when the selection criteria itself is faulty. That means that the cases that require attention are not given it. They end up being shunted off into the extended limbo of closed files while the abuse continues unabated. It is only when the incidents culminate in a homicide that a review uncovers the underlying malpractice.
The state law gives 60 days to complete an investigation, but there is room to extend an investigation with the advice and consent of a supervisor. The most common reason for extensions are pending medical and police reports. That is why some critics argue that the 14-day incentive deadline is just a case of trying to reduce the workload at the expense of victims. If you suspect or are accused of child abuse, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at telephone number 312-560-7100 for further advice and guidance.
(image courtesy of Kevin Gent)