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Local News

DCFS releases report examining Sema'j Crosby case work

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services on Friday released a 22-page report conducted due to the death of 1-year-old Sema'j Crosby last month.

It documents the department's findings through child protection investigations involving the household since April of 2015. During that time, 11 reports were filed. Sema'j was reported missing on April 25 and then was found on or around midnight the following night.

The reports detailed allegations of inadequate supervision, physical and sexual abuse of the children living in the house, drug use, and the need for psychiatric hospitalization of at least one of the children, among other issues. In one of the initial allegations reported on May 24, 2016, an anonymous caller said approximately 30 people lived in the home. The house had three bedrooms, one bathroom and was 864 square feet.

"Although both the investigators and the intact caseworker assigned to the case at differing times appear to have followed primary procedures in contact and preliminary assessments of the children and family, it is not clear that all pertinent information regarding the children's mother and caregivers residing in the family home was clarified and processed between the investigation teams and the intact family team," the report stated.

The report also explained how Sema'j's mother, Sheri Gordon, was described as "nurturing and caring towards her children." But her "potential cognitive and/or learning difficulties may have impacted her ability to ensure her children's health and mental health needs were adequately addressed."

Her 7-year-old son received special education services at a therapeutic day school because of a long history of emotional and behavioral difficulties. He had been hospitalized three times since September for "suicidal ideation." The report stated concern that hospital records do not show ongoing communication between the hospital and the caseworker.

“DCFS's first step was to promise a review of its involvement with Sema'j Crosby's family,” state Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet, said in a statement regarding the report. “Today's release of that review is the second step. I pray the review tells us what specific steps now need to be taken to strengthen families and protect young lives.”

The case files involved Sema'j Crosby, her mother Sheri Gordon, father James Crosby, aunt Lakerisha Crosby, grandmother Darlene Crosby and Wesley Sykes Jr., who was living at the house at least a year before Sema'j's death, and her three siblings, ages 10, 7 and 2. The one case indicated was the first in which one of the children had numerous marks, scratches and bruises from James Crosby, who was living at the home part-time, hitting the child with a belt.

The report states Sema'j's family's case came to the attention of DCFS in September and, while the allegations of inadequate supervision and drug use in the home were unfounded, an intact-family case was opened to provide the family with “housing support and parenting assistance.”

The lawyers representing Gordon on the Crosby case from Chuck Bretz and Associates also responded to the report with a statement saying, "The report is consistent with our own review and investigations in this matter, which includes that 1. Sheri Gordon was and is 'nurturing and caring' to her children, 2. Being a single mother of four with limited support and resources presented extreme challenges, and 3. There were elements in Ms. Gordon's life who took advantage of her, leading to her 'victimization', creating additional challenges."

The report was issued due to the many inquires about the case following Sema'j's death and was completed by Christy Levine, licensed clinical social worker, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christine Schmidt, a DCFS consulting psychologist.

On Friday, the Chicago Tribune also reported that Joliet DCFS investigators competed in closing the most cases in a month for gift cards, with the two winners earning $100 gift cards, which the department director called "improper."

Timeline of DCFS visits to 309 Louis Road in Joliet

1. April 24, 2015 – Indicated – James Crosby inflicted bruising to (redacted).

2. May 24, 2016 – Unfounded – Sheri Gordon to (redacted) (redacted)

3. Sept. 7, 2016 – Unfounded – Sheri Gordon to (redacted) (redacted) Sema’j

4. Sept. 23, 2016 – Intact Family Service case opened for Sheri Gordon

5. Oct. 5, 2016 – Unfounded – Sheri Gordon to (redacted) (redacted)

6. Oct. 10, 2016 – Unfounded – Darlene Crosby to (redacted) and (redacted) (redacted)

7. Nov. 30, 2016 – Unfounded – James Crosby to (redacted) (redacted)

8. Jan. 20, 2017 – Unfounded – Sheri Gordon to (redacted) (redacted)

9. Feb. 16, 2017 – Pending – Wesley Sykes and Lakerisha Crosby to (redacted) (redacted), (redacted) and (redacted) (redacted)

10. March 4, 2017 – Unfounded – For (redacted) and for (redacted) (redacted). Indicated (redacted) (redacted) to (redacted) (redacted)

11. April 21, 2017 – Pending – Sheri Gordon to (redacted) (redacted)

12. April 26, 2017 – Pending – Sheri Gordon to Sema’j Crosby. Pending – Sheri Gordon to children (redacted) (redacted) and (redacted). Companion pending reports naming Darlene Crosby and Lakerisha Crosby as alleged perpetrators, adding risk of harm allegations for (redacted) and (redacted) (redacted) and (redacted) (redacted).

Summary of report recommendations:

1. Review the way DCFS handles reports, because multiple reports with different case numbers happened at same home, which impedes linking and understanding history and trends. Tracking based on address should be considered.

2. Supervisors need to regularly check, through tracking systems, every person living in and frequenting a home.

3. When a caregiver has a self-reported history of developmental delays and special education services, that caregiver’s functional parenting abilities need to be examined.

4. Have a set definition and assessment of parenting standards, acceptable living conditions and number of occupants of home.

5. Review procedures when there are multiple oral reports and family service cases.

6. DCFS should train intact-family supervisors in proper family assessment and intervention when parents have developmental disabilities and are caring for young children.

7. When home condition issues persist, cases cannot be closed unless there is evidence that caregiver understands housekeeping routines and practices and will adhere to them.

8. Intact Family Service must intervene when children with serious mental health and emotional/behavioral issues are in home to ensure caregiver understands child’s struggles, particularly when high-risk symptoms, such as suicidality, exist.

9. Intact Family Services must participate in educating caregiver on plans for treatment of child after hospital discharge.

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