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MITCHELL: DCFS ’90s campaign against child abuse bears repeating

Alexandra Hoyle. | Chicago Police Department

Mothers, don’t leave your children with your boyfriend.

That was the blunt warning from Illinois Department of Children and Family Services nearly 20 years ago, when the agency launched a public awareness campaign at a time when a staggering number of children were being molested and physically abused by men who were in a romantic relationship with the children’s mothers.

Today, I would say the warning cuts both ways.

This past week, Alexandra Hoyle of DeKalb was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and aggravated battery to a child in the death of 2-year-old Kahlil Body.

The young woman is the girlfriend of the dead boy’s father. According to the police, Hoyle slammed the child’s head onto the hardwood floor because he wouldn’t eat his food. The child’s death was ruled a homicide.

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By Friday, the police had not identified Kahlil’s mother or his father.

Obviously, these parents are devastated by what has happened. Kahlil’s death once again highlights the risks young parents take when they entrust defenseless children to boyfriends or, in this case, a girlfriend.

A 2-year-old is so precious, so delightful and so innocent that it’s hard to imagine anyone could do what Hoyle is accused of doing.

But someone killed 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, didn’t they? She was just as precious and delightful and innocent.

The 17-month-old’s body was found under a couch in her Joliet home last summer. Semaj’s death has been ruled homicide by suffocation.

There were at least four women in the home who should have had an eye on the toddler — her mother, grandmother, aunt and a close family friend. Yet none of them appear to have knowledge of how the toddler ended up under a couch.

My point is that the child-killer shouldn’t have been able to get his or her hands of these children.

It’s no coincidence that so many of the women who migrated from the South after failed marriages and relationships arrived without children in tow. Those children stayed with grandparents or other relatives until the mother was pretty sure that any new person in her life could provide a safe environment and wouldn’t pose a threat to her children.

Unfortunately, too often love is not only blind, it also can be deadly.

Gabriel Fernandez, 8, was tortured and beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend in 2013. The Palmdale, California, boy had three broken ribs, a cracked skull and BB pellets embedded in his lung and groin.

Another 8-year-old boy, Dante Daniels, was killed in California when he tried to stop his mother’s ex-boyfriend, a registered sex offender, from sexually abusing his 7-year old sister.

And in Florida, 3-year-old Adelynn Merrell was killed when her mother’s 29-year-old boyfriend kicked her in the head as punishment for getting out of her car seat.

These are horrible tales with one thing in common: misplaced trust.

There certainly are good and kind caregivers who wouldn’t think of abusing children.

But how do you know about a given person? Child abusers can be men or women, and it’s not like they have a warning sign tattooed on their foreheads.

Women with children who decide to move in with men they have only known for a short time are chasing a fantasy that rarely turns out well.

And men with children are being too trusting when they leave a child in the care of a girlfriend.

In most cases, nothing bad will happen. But even one case of child abuse that could have been avoided is one too many.

It still breaks my heart that 12-year-old Alexis Stubbs was beaten and stabbed to death by a man she considered her stepfather.

So DCFS’ warning bears repeating. There are no short cuts when it comes to protecting our children.

You might fall in love at first sight. But trust takes time.