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New report details how DCFS failed Semaj Crosby

Semaj Crosby | Will County sheriff's office

Less than two months before 17-month-old Semaj Crosby was found dead under a couch in a Joliet Township home, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was investigating the alleged sexual abuse of a 3-year-old girl — Semaj’s cousin — who also lived in the home.

Semaj’s paternal grandmother, aunt and her two children lived in the same 864-square-foot home as Semaj, her three siblings and her mother, Sheri Gordon.

Also living in the home, records show, was Semaj’s aunt’s boyfriend, a man on parole for domestic violence. He lived there for a year, but left the home after the 3-year-old’s mother found bruising and vaginal swelling. DCFS named him “the alleged perpetrator.”

DCFS interviewed the physician, who noted there was no sign of sexual penetration, though the child had “grab marks” on her legs as well as other bruises, welts and abrasions.

That investigation was one of 11 initiated by DCFS into the family in the 12 months before Semaj’s death, according to a newly released report from the agency. DCFS also laid bare its own shortcomings, listing nine ways the agency sought to improve after its handling of the case.

Semaj was found dead under a couch in the house about midnight April 26. The day before, DCFS had been at the home investigating a child-neglect allegation but saw “no obvious hazards or safety concerns” for Semaj or siblings, state officials said. Semaj, her three siblings and mother all slept in the same bedroom.

About two-and-a-half hours after a visit from DCFS, the toddler disappeared, prompting a massive search of the subdivision near Joliet. A top police official said the house was in “very deplorable” condition, adding that a lawyer for the girl’s mother made them get a search warrant before they entered it and found the girl.

Less than two weeks after Semaj was found dead, the house burned to the ground. Authorities said arson was “most likely” the cause.

Semaj Crosby’s tiny casket is ushered in for the toddler’s funeral earlier this month at Prayer Tower Ministries in Joliet. | Maria Cardona / Sun-Times
Semaj Crosby’s tiny casket is ushered in for the toddler’s funeral earlier this month at Prayer Tower Ministries in Joliet. | Maria Cardona / Sun-Times

No charges have been filed in the Semaj’s death, though the Will County sheriff’s office has classified it as “criminal.”

The new report shows that 23 different allegations of child endangerment were made in those 11 investigations.

In some investigations, allegations were made against more than one person. Gordon was a subject of 11 allegations, while Semaj’s father, James Crosby, was a subject of two. Three allegations were brought against Semaj’s aunt with five more against her boyfriend, and two were against her maternal grandmother.

Gordon’s attorney did not respond to request for comment Friday night.

Of those 23, two were declared founded, records show. DCFS ruled that 11 were unfounded. Ten more are still pending.

After Semaj’s death, DCFS filed individual “death by neglect” allegations against Gordon, Semaj’s grandmother and Semaj’s aunt. Those three are among those still pending.

The day before Semaj was found, a caseworker with Children’s Home + Aid had been at the home in the 300 block of Louis Road investigating a medical neglect allegation against Gordon, the report states.

One of Semaj’s siblings, a 7-year-old, had exhibited suicidal ideations, and Gordon was alleged to have not refilled his psychotropic medication. The investigation is still pending but was noted as “unfounded due to insufficient evidence.”

It is unclear how long Children’s Home + Aid had been working with Gordon and her family. DCFS noted in the report that information about the family was not efficiently shared within the agency and its contractors.

“It is not clear that all pertinent information regarding the children’s mother and caregivers residing in the family home was clarified and processed between the investigation teams and the intact family team,” the report stated.

The inside of the Joliet Township home where 1-year-old Semaj Crosby was found dead April 26. | Photo provided by Will County Land Use Department.
The inside of the Joliet Township home where 1-year-old Semaj Crosby was found dead April 26. | Photo provided by Will County Land Use Department.

A common topic in the report is Gordon’s mental state and financial hardships. In prior court filings, her attorney disclosed that she is disabled and that “her sole source of income is $773 per month” in disability payments.

On several occasions, she told caseworkers about difficulty securing transportation to take her children to doctor’s visits.

The report stated that Gordon was upfront about having developmental delays and “was reported to be nurturing to the children but appeared to have cognitive limitations.”

Gordon also received a Section 8 housing voucher to live in the home with her four children but not for any other people, the Joliet Housing Authority previously told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In a recent visit, a caseworker told Gordon “numerous times” that her housing voucher “may even be in jeopardy because of the presence of the Crosby women and others in the home.”

The caseworker noted that Gordon appeared “afraid of” Semaj’s aunt and grandmother, who did not help with household expenses.

The Sun-Times reported earlier this month that Gordon was nearly evicted from her prior home for overcrowding and unpaid utility bills.

DCFS concluded its report with a list of “Lessons Learned and Recommendations.”

Among those recommendations was a review of the way the agency documents unfounded allegations against caregivers.

“Because reports were unfounded, a new [State Central Registry] number was given with each new report,” the agency wrote. “This process does not lend itself to linking and understanding history and trends.”

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