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17-Month-Old Semaj Crosby’s Death Linked To Systemic, Family Failures

A month after a 17 month-old child was found dead in her family’s home, DCFS has issued a scathing review of how they missed opportunities to help.

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The Department of Children and Family Services issued a scathing review of the circumstances surrounding last month’s death of 17 month-old old Semaj Crosby.

She was found dead in her Joliet Township home a day after she was reported missing, and two days after caseworkers from DCFS visited the home.

DCFS investigators had also visited ten times since April of 2016 to address allegations of physical abuse, neglect and maltreatment of Semaj’s siblings and other children who lived there.

One anonymous caller last May said 30 people were living in the home, selling drugs outside and drinking in a nearby playground.

Most of those accusations were dismissed for lack of evidence, but caseworkers and investigators did acknowledge that there was trash in corners of the house and that children were sleeping on air mattresses or on the floor.

Crosby’s mother, Sherri Gordon, had three other children, one of whom had severe mental health issues.

DCFS said as many as six different children opened the door to case workers. They never took note of who the children were.

Gordon was described as being “nurturing and caring” to her children despite potential learning disabilities or mental illness. Gordon herself said she had cognitive disabilities, but no one from DCFS confirmed that.

“Ms. Gordon’s self-reported cognitive limitations were never addressed, not was she ever referred for further evaluation to determine the implications of her reported struggles on her parenting abilities,” the review said.

She repeatedly missed parent coaching appointments and behind on her children’s medical check ups.

The review listed a number of failures on the part of DCFS, saying that Gordon’s mental abilities should have been more thoroughly investigated.

Investigators and caseworkers also failed to determine who exactly was living in the home or taking care of children.

Gordon’s 7-year-old son was treated in a psychiatric hospital three times in the past year for suicidal behavior, but caseworkers failed to communicate with the hospital. They also didn’t communicate with his school about his needs, and they knew he wasn’t consistently getting the psychotropic medication he was prescribed.

In addition, notes on seven supervisory sessions weren’t entered into the computer until after Semaj was reported missing. The review said late entries “challenge the credibility of the supervision process.”

The review listed a number of recommendations for changes in policy, including making sure household reports aren’t treated as individual incidents, ensuring rigorous checks on people living in homes, establishing screenings for caregivers with developmental delays, and reviewing what acceptable “minimum parenting standards” are for children under 6

Crosby’s death is still under investigation.

Greta Johnsen is a reporter and anchor for WBEZ. Follow her @gretamjohnsen.

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