Two state child welfare investigators have been fired over their handling of AJ Freund’s case before the 5-year-old was allegedly beaten to death by his mother inside their squalid Crystal Lake home earlier this year.
After an internal investigation, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took “personnel action” against caseworker Carlos Acosta and supervisor Andrew Polovin, agency spokesman Jassen Strokosch said Friday.
“Following the heartbreaking death of AJ Freund, DCFS began a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with AJ’s family to understand what needs to change to prevent tragedies like this from happening again,” Strokosch said in a statement. “DCFS is continuing to examine the department’s work in this case and will take all necessary action to protect the children and families we serve.”
Acosta and Polovin could not be reached for comment.
They had been taken off casework and reassigned to administrative duty in mid-April, shortly after authorities found AJ’s body in a shallow grave near Woodstock. The boy’s mother, JoAnn Cunningham, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last week, while murder charges and other felonies related to the horrific case are still pending against AJ’s father, Andrew Freund Sr.
The boy’s death marked the latest shocking case of neglect to rock the beleaguered welfare agency, putting a spotlight on ballooning caseloads and bureaucratic miscommunication at DCFS.
Acosta and Polovin were overloaded with cases in 2018 — a year in which AJ’s family was the subject of two abuse investigations — and the months leading up to AJ’s death, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors DCFS under a court-ordered consent decree.
AJ’s estate filed a federal lawsuit against the workers in October, claiming their “inhumane indifference” to the boy’s safety led to his violent death. They accused Acosta and Polovin of conducting and approving “sham investigations” that “returned AJ right back into the claws of his abusers.”
The welfare agency had been involved with the family for most of AJ’s short life since he was born with opiates in his system, according to a DCFS timeline.
The family’s caseworkers kept AJ in his mother’s custody despite a December 2018 hotline call after the boy — taken by police to an emergency room with a bruised hip — told a doctor: “Maybe someone hit me with a belt. Maybe mommy didn’t mean to hurt me.”
A separate abuse investigation launched several months earlier had been deemed unfounded.
Acosta has earned $90,900 this year — including for his nearly eight months on reassignment — as an advanced child protection specialist, state payroll records show. He earned $94,400 last year. Acosta is also a McHenry County board member.
Polovin, whose title is public service administrator, has grossed $171,500 this year, most of it while reassigned. He took home more than $123,000 each of the past two years.