A McHenry County State’s Attorney criminally charged two former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) child protection specialists with endangering the life of a child and health of a minor. Before 2019, when 5-year-old AJ Freund was found in a shallow grave, DCFS received at least 10 prior hotline calls concerning the care the child’s parents were giving.
In 2013, AJ Freund was born with opiates in his system, prompting a hospital social worker to notify DCFS. In December 2018, police notified DCFS of a large bruise on AJ’s hip. AJ told the doctor, “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.” However, DCFS sent AJ home from the hospital, later closing the investigation, finding no abuse due to lack of evidence.
In March 2019, during a search of deleted files on AJ’s mother’s cellphone, police found a two-minute video that showed a badly injured AJ on a bare, urine-soaked mattress in a crib. He is nude except for small bandages around his wrists and circling his hips. AJ’s mother, who is recording the video, is heard verbally berating him for wetting the bed. After AJ removes an ice pack from his face, he is seen to have deep red bruising around his eyes and on his neck and clavicle area. No action is taken by DCFS. A little over a month later, AJ’s father reported the child missing to police. Shortly after, police find AJ’s body covered in plastic, laying in a shallow grave. An autopsy revealed that AJ died from injuries to his skull and brain due to multiple blunt-force injuries. Prosecutors later alleged the boy was killed April 15.
Roughly 6 months later, AJ’s estate filed a federal lawsuit against a DCFS investigator and the supervisor who handled the final hotline complaint regarding AJ’s hip bruise and filthy home. The lawsuit named AJ’s siblings as his legal heirs and alleged the employees showed an “inhumane indifference to AJ’s safety” in their handling of the December 2018 hotline call.
Unfortunately, AJ’s story is not uncommon. Too often, DCFS lets children down by failing to take action in situations involving abuse and neglect, whether the child is with family or placed in a home by DCFS. The attorneys at Justice for Kids are able to assist families, guardians, or others close to a child in situations of abuse and neglect.