SPRINGFIELD, lll. (WEEK) — The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is again facing questions after a 5-year-old northern Illinois boy involved with the agency was found buried in a shallow grave.
The body of Andrew “AJ” Freund was found in Woodstock about a week after he was reported missing. His parents, Andrew Freund, Sr. and JoAnn Cunningham, are charged with his death in McHenry County.
DCFS was involved with Freund since his birth, when he was reportedly born with opioids in his system.
“After a nearly week-long search for missing Andrew “A.J.” Freund, law enforcement officials today confirmed his death. This news is heartbreaking. Protecting vulnerable children who come to our attention is at the core of our mission at DCFS. All of us feel this loss,” said DCFS Acting Director Marc Smith. “Our priority is the care and safety of Andrew’s younger sibling. We will continue to cooperate with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation. The Department is committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with Andrew’s family to understand our shortcomings and to be fully transparent with the public on any steps we are taking to address the issues.”
The agency has faced heavy criticism from lawmakers and child welfare advocates after the recent deaths of several children involved with the agency, including 2-year-old Ta’Naja Barnes of Decatur in February and 1-year-old Semaj Crosby of Joliet in 2017.
A report issued earlier this year by the DCFS inspector general reported nearly 100 kids involved with the agency died in the last fiscal year.
Earlier this year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the hiring of 126 more caseworkers for the agency, which has suffered from attrition, frequent management changes and understaffing for the past several years. Pritzker also unveiled a new DCFS Simulation Center earlier this month in an effort to better train investigators.
However, some lawmakers are still calling for more action.
“It is horrific that we are once again discussing the death of a child following alleged abuse and neglect at the hands of his parents. It does not get any easier to hear these stories,” said state Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield). “As with many other deaths, it seems the system designed to protect Illinois’ children did not work in AJ Freund’s case.”
Morrison is calling for an audit of the DCFS hotline program, which often serves as the front line on child abuse reports.
“The legislature, along with the governor, must begin in some concrete ways to reform an agency that has failed in its responsibility to protect children,” said Morrison.
Freund’s parents are due in McHenry County Court on Thursday for a hearing.