DCFS director George Sheldon takes easy way out

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Seventeen month-old Semaj Crosby was found dead under a couch at her home in an unincorporated section of Joliet in April. | Will County sheriff’s office photo

George Sheldon, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services director, didn’t have a clue.

After only two years on the job, Sheldon is leaving the agency in turmoil over the Semaj Crosby tragedy.

The 17-month-old girl was found dead under a couch in an unincorporated section of Joliet in April.

Under Sheldon’s leadership, getting DCFS to step up and take some responsibility for missing the red flags in this case has been like pulling teeth.

And that speaks to the biggest failure of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration.

While Rauner has been embroiled in a war with House Speaker Michael Madigan that has resulted in a 702-day budget impasse, the real business of governance is being neglected.

OPINION

Sheldon should have been canned when it was first learned that DCFS had opened and closed numerous investigations of abuse and neglect allegations involving Semaj’s family the year leading up to the toddler’s murder.

After her tiny body was discovered, the Will County sheriff’s office said the home was in “very deplorable” condition and declared it “uninhabitable.”

The house later burned to the ground in a suspected arson.

According to DCFS’ own investigation, Semaj’s mother, Sheri Gordon, was described to be “nurturing and caring towards her children,” even though the home was “frequented by individuals and other family members.”

The agency had opened multiple child protection investigations involving Gordon and her sister.

A month before Semaj was killed, DCFS named a man living in the home the “alleged perpetrator” in a case involving a 3-year-old also living at the address. That report was “unfounded” for allegations of sexual penetration, but “indicated” for allegations of abuse, cuts, bruises, welts, abrasions and oral injuries.

The man, identified by DCFS as the boyfriend of Gordon’s sister, fled the home after the abuse allegation.

You don’t have to be a detective or caseworker to know that these are troubling signs.

Still, Sheldon maintains that Semaj and three other siblings were not at risk for harm.

“Based on what I saw in terms of the individual allegations and the ones where we couldn’t prove it, I didn’t see anything that would have indicated removal,” he said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

That’s just crazy.

But more than that, I’m offended that Sheldon seems to be suggesting that the lifestyle Semaj was being brought up in is harmless to children.

That wasn’t the case.

The 22-page report documents several incidents in which one of Semaj’s siblings told a DCFS investigator of not “feeling safe,” because of what was going on in his home.

But attorneys for Gordon, Semaj’s mother, are portraying her as the “victim.

After the DCFS report was released, Neil Patel, of the firm of Chuck Bretz and Associates in Joliet, issued a statement lamenting that Gordon is a “single mother of four with limited support and resources,” and argues that “presented extreme challenges.”

“We ask those who review this report to consider the tremendous difficulties that Ms. Gordon faced as a mother, who did the best she could with sparse help and limited income,” Patel said.

That is indeed unfortunate.

Still, it must be noted that besides a revolving door of “friends,” Gordon’s own mother and sister also lived in the house.

Why didn’t they put their “limited income” together to provide a cleaner and safer environment for Semaj and her three siblings?

Instead of holding these caregivers accountable, DCFS enabled them to get away with the neglect that likely led to this child’s early death.

In part, we have the never-ending Rauner vs. Madigan fight to thank for that.

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