More than 100 children died over 1-year period despite contact with DCFS, new report says

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 100 children under the watch of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services died over a one-year period, according to a new report.

The report by Illinois' Inspector General outlines a tragic pattern within the state agency responsible for child protective services.

According to the annual report, 123 children died between July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, despite DCFS having contact with their families. Twenty-four of those deaths were ruled as homicides.

"I'm sick and tired of seeing all of these reports with DCFS and dead children," Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said.

In many of the cases listed in the report, DCFS documented multiple signs of danger and abuse before the child died.

Golbert, who works to protect those children, said DCFS failed.

"DCFS did not do anything and left the kids there," Golbert said.

One of those heartbreaking cases that made national headlines was the death of 5-year-old AJ Freund, who was killed back in April.

The Crystal lake boy's body was found dumped in a shallow grave in McHenry County. AJ's parents, who had a long history with DCFS, were charged with his murder.

RELATED: JoAnn Cunningham, mother of slain Crystal Lake boy AJ Freund, pleads guilty to murder

"This report has many, many AJ Freunds," Golbert said.

In March, 2-year-old Jahir Gibbons was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend. The child died less than 48 hours after a DCFS worker said they were at the home for a welfare check.

Robert Gibbons, Jahir's father, is now suing the agency.

"I feel that they ignored the abuse," Gibbons said.

RELATED: Father of boy, 2, beaten to death files lawsuit against Omni Youth Services, case worker

According to the new report, the issues plaguing the system have been around for years and still have not been fixed.

"We need consistent leadership, the will, and the resources," Golbert said.

A DCFS spokesperson issued a statement in response to the report Friday.

"Overhauling the department and reversing long-standing problems in the child welfare system won't happen overnight, but we are making dramatic improvements and we are deeply committed to getting this right," the spokesperson said.

Gov. JB Pritzker's Office also issued a statement Friday, saying the governor "took swift action in his first budget to significantly increase DCFS staff with 300 additional new frontline employees, brought in experts to immediately overhaul agency policies, and initiated a new training program for all existing and new employees."

To read the full report, visit the Office of the Inspector General's website here.

Read the full statement from DCFS provided below:

"The death of any child in Illinois is a tragedy and this department is deeply committed to protecting vulnerable children in this state. Over the past several years, that mission became increasingly challenging as funding cuts and staff reductions left the agency under resourced and without the staff needed to give vulnerable children the care they deserve. At the same time, cases increased with an increase of more than 5000 investigations in FY19 and the number of youth brought in to care and families supported by Intact Family Services increasing as well.

On July 1, with leadership from the Governor and the General Assembly, a new budget went into effect that reversed course. The FY20 budget allowed DCFS to hire 300 additional staff and more than 2,800 existing staff across the state have now received new training on child safety. The entire leadership of DCFS, including child protection and operations, have been completely restructured and in response to the Chapin Hall report intact family services has been restructured as well. Overhauling the department and reversing long-standing problems in the child welfare system won't happen overnight, but we are making dramatic improvements and we are deeply committed to getting this right."
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.