DCFS hasn’t learned much since tragic abuse case

Chicago Sun-Times - - ANOTHER VIEW - MARY MITCHELL Email: marym@sun­times.com

Gwend­dolyn Hol­loway, the 28- year- old mother of the 3- year- old who was ac­ci­den­tally shot in the head while play­ing “cops and rob­bers” with his mother’s hand­gun, ob­vi­ously had a lot on her plate.

But you prob­a­bly wouldn’t have known that un­less you got inside her home in the 6200 block of South Aberdeen, where she was rais­ing five chil­dren, rang­ing from ages 3 to 11, and re­al­ized she had no heat or hot wa­ter.

Or you could see that the chil­dren were sleep­ing on “soiled mat­tresses on the floor with­out sheets or blan­kets and were sur­rounded by garbage and clothes,” ac­cord­ing to As­sis­tant Cook County State’s At­tor­ney Amari Daw­son.

If filthy con­di­tions weren’t a cause for con­cern, the “50 bag­gies con­tain­ing 26 grams of crack co­caine,” which pros­e­cu­tors said were found in the bed­room shared by Hol­loway and the chil­dren’s fa­ther, Michael Ri­ley, was a clear sign the chil­dren were at risk of harm.

The hor­rific death from abuse and ne­glect of 8- year- old Gizzell Ford in 2013 ought to have been enough to shake up the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­ily Ser­vices when it comes to check­ing up on such ne­glect cases. Gizzell was tor­tured to death by her grand­mother even though DCFS was ac­tively in­volved in her case. But ap­par­ently not. Neigh­bors can be blind when it comes to what is go­ing on next door.

But you don’t ex­pect the state’s child pro­tec­tive agency to miss such red flags.

While the chil­dren were left un­su­per­vised last Thurs­day, one of them found a lock­box con­tain­ing a .40- cal­iber hand­gun.

The un­locked box turned their child’s game into a tragedy when the 3- year- old boy was shot. Mirac­u­lously, he sur­vived.

Both Ri­ley and Hol­loway have been charged crim­i­nally. The fa­ther was charged with one felony count of un­law­ful use of a weapon by a felon; one felony count of pos­ses­sion of a con­trolled sub­stance; and four mis­de­meanor counts of child en­dan­ger­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Cook County state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Hol­loway, who had a Firearm Owner Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Card, also was charged with four mis­de­meanor counts of child en­dan­ger­ment.

The case raises se­ri­ous con­cerns about how DCFS han­dled this ne­glect case, given that the agency’s in­volve­ment goes back to 2009 when the fa­ther was first in­di­cated for ne­glect.

And in 2013, the cou­ple’s spe­cial needs child was re­moved from their care be­cause the child failed to thrive.

A spokesman for DCFS claims that since then, the mother has been com­pli­ant with the agency, but the fa­ther was not.

Veron­ica Resa, deputy di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for DCFS, said be­tween 2016 and 2017, social work­ers had been un­able to get into the home, where the chil­dren were found liv­ing in squalor and with­out heat.

“No one let us in,” Resa said. “We spoke to the kids be­cause we saw them out­side. When we saw the chil­dren, we didn’t see ev­i­dence of abuse and ne­glect out­side of the home. They were not thin. They were wear­ing clean clothes and things like that.”

“When DCFS was at the home in Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary 2017, there was no re­sponse. So ei­ther they were there and did not an­swer the door or they were not home,” she said.

On Mon­day, how­ever, Di­rec­tor Ge­orge Shel­don said he had some se­ri­ous ques­tions about how the case was han­dled.

“We have ini­ti­ated a qual­ity as­sur­ance anal­y­sis of this case to look at what we could have done dif­fer­ently and what we can learn from this,” Shel­don said in a writ­ten state­ment.

Un­der cur­rent pol­icy, DCFS has to have ev­i­dence of abuse or ne­glect be­fore they can step in and take cus­tody of chil­dren un­der al­le­ga­tions of risk of harm.

In this case, there were no hot­line calls or other com­plaints from neigh­bors about how the chil­dren were be­ing cared for, ac­cord­ing to DCFS.

Still, the fact that a social worker could not get through the door of Hol­loway’s home for a year should have been ev­i­dence enough that there was some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong inside.

Gwend­dolyn Hol­loway

Michael Ri­ley

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