Quick Hits – We failed A. J.

Quick Hits – We failed A. J.

Like most of you, reading the horrific details of A. J. Freund’s too-short life makes me want to punch some suspect folks squarely in the mouth. But while the visceral reactions to his death are vast and plentiful, the kind of critical thinking I’ve been calling for lately is sorely lacking.


Sure! Visceral reactions can be fun and somewhat self-satisfying, but they solve nothing and they tend make the situation worse. So, as difficult as it may be, let’s examine this tragic scenario with a more jaundiced eye because that’s the only way anything’s ever going to change.

Let’s start with the obvious fact that we – yes, you and me – are the ones who failed A. J., and here’s why:

1. Abusers don’t occur in a vacuum.

We’ve covered this beyond obvious fact numerous times. But let me be clear one more time! Not all abused children become abusers. In fact, young female abuse victims are more likely to become battered adults.

But if you take adult abusers as a whole, there is a direct and positive correlation to being regularly beaten as children. It’s not that hard to understand. Most human behavior is learned, and we all tend to become our parents to varying degrees.

Just look at any photograph of A. J.’s parents and it doesn’t take a psychiatric professional to determine their affect is completely off. His father looks a member of the walking dead and his mother clearly continues to be abused.

That means this generally absurd embraced-by-Republicans Ayn Rand-ian notion that, if left to our own devices, we’re all capable of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is pure unadulterated bovine excrement.

My regular readers know my wife teaches in the East Aurora school district, and through no fault of their own, most of those kids don’t have a bleepin’ shot in hell. In fact, most of them already live in hell. And the fact that some of them actually do succeed is nothing short of miraculous.

But they’re the exception that proves the rule.

So, where were we when these two parental monsters were being created? That biblical caveat covering “the least of our brothers and sisters” is unequivocal. When you finally do meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, I would advise against saying “I was too busy” because it ain’t gonna work. There are no exceptions.


2. DCFS is an impossible proposition

Why do we keep expecting miracles – or even competency – from an agency that’s so incredibly overworked and so utterly underfunded it can’t possibly succeed? Yes! It looks like the lapses were particularly egregious in A. J.’s case, but do we really think disciplining two caseworkers is going to be the answer to anything?

In today’s editorial, the Chicago Tribune declares, “His death, allegedly at the hands of his parents, could’ve been prevented by a well-run child welfare system.” Yes! And if those bleepin’ Publisher’s Clearing House people would only show up on my front porch today, all my problems would be solved, too!

The editorial goes on to refer to the agency as “beleaguered,” but it offers no real solution to DCFS’s revolving door leadership and utterly untenable culture.

Yet, back in 2012, the Trib ran a great investigative piece making an excellent case for no more than 24 cases per caseworker. That reporter noted that most were tackling 40, with some caseworkers handling as many as 60 families, and the those numbers were only getting worse.

Human beings are imbued with certain limitations and defense mechanisms. If you’re constantly exposed to exceedingly difficult situations with no solution in sight, you either invite a breakdown or your start becoming inured to it.

Do you want to know what the average DCFS caseworker makes? $35,906 a year, seven percent below the national average. So, what person with half a brain is going to take a job for peanuts where you have to work absurd hours just to keep up in a chronically underfunded agency and one slip might mean the death of a child?

Without casting any aspersions on any particular caseworker, those magnificent job “perks” mean all you’re going to get is young, inexperienced employees who might not be able to make it in other more advantageous venues.

Put more simply, did those two caseworkers fail A. J.? Yes, they did! But we failed those two caseworkers. Money doesn’t solve everything, but if we want a better Illinois child welfare system then we have to be willing to pay for it.


We’ll continue this conversation on Wednesday.

4 thoughts on “Quick Hits – We failed A. J.

  1. Please don’t forget that the parents are drug addicts, which in turn means that they lie, steal, cheat and they know how to beat the system. Keeping those kids is of utmost importance to them because it is their “paycheck”. Being personally involved in a case where the DCFS worker knew the mother was abusing drugs, I watched first handed as DCFS sent her for numerous drug tests, did surprise visits, etc. etc. This woman was always prepared. She knew her rights-backwards and forwards and beat the system everytime. Then the DCFS worker was ordered by the courts to give her children back to her. This cannot all be blamed on DCFS. Most of those men and women have seen horrors we as normal parents could not even imagine. And yet, the law is still on the abusers side.

  2. There has to be a fundamental decision made. What is the goal, protect children obviously but then what? Return home, terminate parental rights, long term foster care? Parents screw up; some rehab, if kid living in an environment injurious or is abused or neglected and is immediate and urgent necessity that is legal standard to remove child. Where does kid go, another relative, a foster home (and I don’t know anymore if Illinois will place kids at Catholic Charities because of the Church position on Gay Rights so that eliminates a huge resource)? I often thought we should return to County run Orphanages, with classes for parents, shelters for abused and neglected women and children. But there is not a person out there that will raise their property tax a dollar to support this. And someones idea of punishment is another persons view of abuse. Obviously AJ case was extreme but unfortunately really not unusual.

Leave a Reply