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DCFS placed troubled teen girl with 24-year-old pimp as foster parent

DCFS placed troubled teen girl with pimp as foster parent
DCFS placed troubled teen girl with pimp as foster parent 03:50

Editors note: Update 

As a point of clarification, three-time felon Erick Johnson, 24, was approved by DCFS to foster the 16-year-old sex trafficking victim, but Johnson did not go through the typical foster parenting licensing and training process. Johnson was approved to be a "fictive kin" caregiver and DCFS placed the child in his care.

This link describes the different ways DCFS allows a person to receive foster children without licensing. You can be a relative, or what is called "fictive kin" -- a family friend -- and bypass the licensing process. But caregivers still need DCFS approval and a criminal background check. 

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A 16-year-old girl was already a sex trafficking victim – and we have learned the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services placed her with a three-time convicted felon who is accused of forcing her into prostitution.

CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini has been exposing state child welfare system failures for years.

In this case, it is almost unreal what happened to a foster child. But indeed, DCFS placed a child sexual assault victim into the care of a man who should never have been given a license to be a foster parent.

The troubled 16-year-old girl was placed in a foster parent's home in an apartment building at the corner of 80th Street and Hermitage Avenue. During our years-long investigation into DCFS, the CBS 2 Investigators made the astounding discovery that the licensed foster parent who lived in that apartment – and whom the state entrusted to care for the teenage girl - was a 24-year-old man with a lengthy criminal record.

His name is Erick Johnson, and he is also an accused sex trafficker.

Erick Johnson

"They licensed him as a foster parent," said Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert. "They licensed this 24-year-old pimp as a foster parent for a 16-year-old girl who had a history – they were paying tax money as a foster parent while he was trafficking a 16-year-old girl in DCFS care."

For three years now, we have been investigating DCFS – and we have uncovered a disturbing pattern of the department bouncing children from home to home and not getting kids like this girl the proper specialized care.

We discovered the teen's case this week when a judge heard evidence from a DCFS hired psychologist nearly a year ago – who told the child welfare agency that the teenage girl needed to be in a "secure residential treatment sex trafficking program."

In other words, according to Golbert, the teenage girl already had a history of being trafficked for sex – and DCFS placed her in a home with a pimp.

We asked Golbert about the way DCFS handled the teen's case.

"She needed a secure residential placement that was highly structured and had an intensive program for victims of sex trafficking," Golbert said. "DCFS never did that. They bounced her around from hospital to shelter to foster home."

A court order we obtained says while the teenage girl has waited to get the care and placement she needs, the teen has been trafficked, sexually assaulted, and shot, and has lived on the streets. And ultimately, the order said, "the agency made a pimp the child's foster parent."

"Over this whole year, this girl has been raped, she's been trafficked, she's has been abused, she's been beaten up - and she's been shot," Golbert said. "She actually has a bullet in her leg."

Johnson has a lengthy criminal record. The teen was placed with him just months after he was released from federal prison after a 24-month sentence on a firearms charge. 

Before that, Johnson spent three years in state prison for two robbery convictions.

Despite all that Johnson "passed placement clearance and was approved by DCFS to become a foster parent," the order said.

How does someone with such a background get licensed?

"It's impossible. It should be impossible. It shocks the conscience," Golbert said. "It's of the level of negligence that's criminal."

Johnson's latest charges detailed in the court record say the "juvenile victim was being advertised" and prostituted on "a known sex website."

Savini asked Golbert what this says about the background-checking system at DCFS.

"It says that they're not doing background checks. It says that it's broken. It says that it's dysfunctional," Golbert said. "It says that maybe we're at point that we should just abolish DCFS all together."

Golbert says he is now exploring the possibility of filing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the child against DCFS – the state agency that was supposed to protect a child who had already suffered deep trauma and had been trafficked before.

DCFS has not yet responded to questions about the background check of this foster parent.   

DCFS statement:

"In this case, the 16-year-old was placed with a friend of the family with the support of both her birth and adoptive mothers and the guardian ad litem in an effort to provide her with stability due to her history of running away from previous placements. Over the next several months DCFS regularly met with the friend of the family as well as the adoptive and birth mothers and the guardian ad litem on a placement plan. These are the individuals with parental rights and responsibilities related to the child and DCFS, therefore, works closely with them to determine an appropriate plan of action for the child. The child has since been removed from this household and there are no other foster or adoptive children living in this household. The child is currently in the care of a DCFS private partner and DCFS is working expeditiously to find a permanent and medically appropriate placement for this child that will provide her with the care she requires."

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert's response to DCFS statement:

"This is so disingenuous and dishonest.  As you know, the teen expressed an interest in living with Johnson.  DCFS represented that Johnson had passed DCFS's placement clearance, and that DCFS had approved Johnson as a paid fictive kin placement for her.  Under DCFS's regulations, DCFS must perform a criminal background check on an individual before he or she can pass DCFS's placement clearance.   

"DCFS either never did this required background check on Johnson or, if DCFS did do this required background check, it did not do so competently or was not concerned about his lengthy record.  We most certainly never told DCFS, or anyone else, that we supported DCFS placing her with Johnson if DCFS's required background check came back to DCFS with a record as long as an arm including Johnson being a three-time felon.  Moreover, as is clear from Judge Murphy's order, DCFS also never disclosed to the court that Johnson had this extensive criminal background despite DCFS passing him for placement clearance and approving him as a paid fictive kin placement.  It's just so disingenuous."

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