Mitchell: DCFS hasn’t learned much since 2013 tragic abuse case

A 3-year-old boy was shot in a home in the 6200 block of South Aberdeen on March 16, Chicago Police said. | Photo courtesy of ABC7 Chicago

Gwenddolyn Holloway, the 28-year-old mother of the 3-year-old who was accidentally shot in the head while playing “cops and robbers” with his mother’s handgun, obviously had a lot on her plate.

But you probably wouldn’t have known that unless you got inside her home in the 6200 block of South Aberdeen, where she was raising five children, ranging from age 3 to 11, and realized she had no heat or hot water.

Or you could see that the children were sleeping on “soiled mattresses on the floor without sheets or blankets and were surrounded by garbage and clothes,” according to an Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Amari Dawson.

If filthy conditions weren’t a cause for concern, the “fifty baggies containing 26 grams of crack cocaine,” which prosecutors said were found in the bedroom shared by Holloway and the children’s father, Michael Riley, was a clear sign the children were at risk of harm.

The horrific death from abuse and neglect of 8-year-old Gizzell Ford in 2013 ought to have been enough to shake up the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services when it comes to checking up on such neglect cases. Gizzell was tortured to death by her grandmother even though DCFS was actively involved in her case.

But apparently not.

OPINION

Neighbors can be blind when it comes to what is going on next door.

But you don’t expect the state’s child protective agency to miss such red flags.

While the children were left unsupervised last Thursday, one of them found a lockbox containing a .40-caliber handgun.

The unlocked box turned their child’s game into a tragedy when the 3-year-old boy was shot. Miraculously, he survived.

Both Riley and Holloway have been charged criminally. The father was charged with one felony count of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon; one felony count of possession of a controlled substance; and four misdemeanor counts of child endangerment, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Holloway, who had a Firearm Owner Identification Card, also was charged with four misdemeanor counts of child endangerment.

The case raises serious concerns about how DCFS handled this neglect case, given that the agency’s involvement goes back to 2009 when the father was first indicated for neglect.

And in 2013, the couple’s special needs child was removed from their care because the child failed to thrive.

A spokesman for DCFS claims that since then, the mother has been compliant with the agency, but the father was not.

Veronica Resa, deputy director of communications for DCFS, said between 2016 and 2017, social workers had been unable to get into the home, where the children were found living in squalor and without heat.

“No one let us in,” Resa said. “We spoke to the kids because we saw them outside. When we saw the children, we didn’t see evidence of abuse and neglect outside of the home. They were not thin. They were wearing clean clothes and things like that.”

“When DCFS was at the home in January and February 2017, there was no response. So either they were there and did not answer the door or they were not home,” she said.

On Monday, however, Director George Sheldon said he had some serious questions about how the case was handled.

“We have initiated a quality assurance analysis of this case to look at what we could have done differently and what we can learn from this,” Sheldon said in a written statement.

Under current policy, DCFS has to have evidence of abuse or neglect before they can step in and take custody of children under allegations of risk of harm.

In this case, there were no hotline calls or other complaints from neighbors about how the children were being cared for, according to DCFS.

Still, the fact that a social worker could not get through the door of Holloway’s home for a year should have been evidence enough that there was something terribly wrong inside.

Previously from Chicago News