Social services workers assigned to the case of now-deceased boy, A.J. Freund, were apparently overloaded with cases during the time they made visits to the child’s home. It’s an ongoing problem with the Illinois Department of Family and Children Services, according to recent information revealed to a federal judge.
Chicago Tribune reports that a lawyer for American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Heidi Dalenberg, explained to U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso that the two social services workers assigned to 5-year-old A.J.’s abuse and neglect case had an abundance of cases they were handling at the same time. The caseloads were notably higher than authorized by a federal consent decree.
According to ACLU, social services workers should not take on more than 12 to 15 cases each month, or no more than 153 total cases a year. One of the workers went over the limit for nine of the 12 months in 2018, Dalenberg said.
According to Meryl Paniak, ACLU’s inspector general, A.J. was among 112 children in the DCF system who died since July 2018. The state began investigating Illinois DCF after a large public outcry following A.J.’s death in April.
“In recent months, we have seen far too many crises,” DCFS Acting Director Marc Smith said. “Our mission is to protect children and keep them safe. The loss of innocent lives is heartbreaking. And when the child was involved with DCFS and dies, we are failing our mission.”
“We’re going to take a step back, we’re going to take the energy to retrain all our staff so they understand what the criteria is, what the priorities are and what we look at and how we make decisions based on safety for our families.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, A.J. was found dead and buried in a shallow grave on April 24. Investigators found him on rural land close to Gayle Drive and Dean Street in Woodstock, Illinois. The boy’s parents, Andrew Freund Sr., 60, and JoAnn Cunningham, 36, have been charged with the boy’s murder.
McHenry County Interim Coroner David Devane, who released the boy’s official cause of death results, noted that A.J. had “craniocerebral trauma as a consequence of multiple blunt force injuries.” According to Mayo Clinic, craniocerebral trauma means a traumatic brain injury, typically caused by violent blows to the head.
Freund Sr. also told the dispatcher he had an early doctor’s appointment on the morning of April 18, but when he returned home between 8:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., his son was missing. The man said he thoroughly checked the home and the surrounding areas and couldn’t find A.J.
“I have no idea where he could be,” Freund said.
Authorities said from the beginning of the investigation that they didn’t believe the child was abducted, as a canine unit couldn’t place the child’s scent past the family’s home.
According to court documents, Crystal Lake police later found a video of A.J. on his mother’s phone. Cunningham was apparently seen on the video scolding and screaming at the boy as he laid naked on a bare mattress, covered in bruises on his face and body.
Freund Sr. reportedly told investigators that during the video, the little boy was being punished for urinating in his bed, then lying about “soiled underwear.”
“AJ is seen to (be) naked except for some small bandages around both wrists and circling his hips,” the affidavit read. “AJ is seen to be holding an ice pack to his face and when he removes it he is seen to have deep red bruising around his eyes, and yellowish-green bruising around his neck and upper chest. It did not appear from the video that AJ received professional medical attention.”
McHenry County sheriff’s Detective Edwin Maldonado stated that when confronted with cellphone evidence, Freund Sr. said they started putting A.J. in cold showers afterward, when Cunningham suggested giving the boy punishment without as many beatings.
On the night before the boy died, on April 15, Freund Sr. allegedly forced the boy into an ice cold shower for 20 minutes before putting him to bed.
“JoAnn [wanted] to stop with the hard physical beatings and do some less violent form of punishment. Drew said cold showers was decided (as the alternative). Drew said on or about … 4/15/19, AJ had lied about soiled underwear and he was subjected to a cold shower. Drew said he helped AJ out of the shower after he’d been there approximately 20 minutes, and put AJ to bed ‘cold, wet, and naked.”
The following morning, Cunningham found A.J. unresponsive and reportedly searched for “cpr” on Freund Sr.’s phone. By then, it was too late. Freund Sr. told police that his son had died.
“Freund said the next day he took AJ’s body to the basement and stored him in a tote. He said on the night of 4/17/19 he placed Andrew inside of several trash bags, placed the body in the trunk of his car, and drove him to an area in Woodstock. Drew said he dug a shallow grave for AJ, placed him in it, covered it with straw, and left.”
Cunningham has been charged with five counts of murder, four counts of aggravated battery, two counts of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death.
Freund Sr. has been charged with five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated battery, one count of aggravated domestic battery and one count of failure to report a missing or child death. He’s also charged with two counts of concealment of homicidal death, as authorities said he was the one that buried the boy in a neighboring town.
In addition to the previous charges, both suspects now face additional charges of aggravated domestic battery and aggravated battery, in connection with the alleged beating of A.J. a month before he died. They’ve also been charged with unlawful restraint, child endangerment, and reckless conduct. Freund was also charged with a one count of making a false complaint to 911.
Both suspects remain behind bars on $5 million bond amounts, each.
[Feature Photo: A.J. Freund/Handout]