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Gov. Pritzker Has Vowed To Make Changes At DCFS, But Multiple Children Whose Families Were Investigated Have Still Been Killed

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A mother stood charged Monday with stabbing her 5-year-old daughter to death on the city's West Side, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had been called to their home in the past.

Gov. JB Pritzker has promised to make changes at the DCFS to protect children like the girl who was killed this past weekend, Serenity Arrington.

Serenity Arrington
Serenity Arrington (Credit: @lhfirm)

Still, as CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Monday evening, dozens of children whose families were investigated by the DCFS have been killed in just the last year.

It is a heartbreaking roster of failure.

Kerri Rutherford, 6, died in August in Kendall County. Toxicology reports showed she had ingested a lethal dose of a drug commonly prescribed for adults with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Kerri Rutherford
Kerri Rutherford

Kerri's mother and stepfather are now charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Before Kerri's death, neighbors had called authorities - dozens of times.

"At least four times, maybe more, because I know I called anonymously a few times," neighbor Monica Alexander told CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey.

A police report said a teacher had notified the DCFS.

In February of this year in East Peoria, 4-year-old Tate Thurman died - beaten head to toe. His father's girlfriend was charged with murder.

Tate Thurman
Tate Thurman (Credit: Christina Caudle)

The DCFS had had contact with the little boy's family as well, CBS 2's Chris Tye learned. There were seven DCFS investigations over six years.

And that came months after the murder of A.J. Freund in Crystal Lake after horrific abuse.

AJ Freund
(Davenport Funeral Home)

In January, the Illinois Inspector General's office said in its annual report that 123 children, prior to DCFS interventions, died between July 2018 and July 2019.

Last year, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker vowed there would be changes at DCFS.

"Bringing the best caseworkers, the best trained caseworkers and investigators to the forefront," was the goal Pritzker announced at the time.

Alpa Patel is chief deputy with the Cook County Public Guardian's office.

"We have certainly seen some changes and while progress is being made," Patel said. "It's definitely not to the measure we need to see with regards to how children and families are being protected right now."

Patel said DCFS caseworkers need better supervision.

"There are certainly some fantastic caseworkers; some fantastic people working with these families and I applaud them, as do my colleagues," Patel said. "However, sometimes those folks are far and few between in terms of all of the other folks who need the support and training and probably additional coaching in order to do the right job for the clients we serve."

In the A.J. Freund case, two former DCFS workers – Carlos Acosta and Andrew Polovin – were charged this month with felony child endangerment and reckless conduct.

Meanwhile, reporters were told Monday afternoon that 500 DCFS frontline workers – caseworkers and investigators - have been hired in the last year and half since the governor's announcement. But that number is offset somewhat by retirements.

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