AJ Freund | File Photo.

123 children died within a year of having contact with the Department of Children and Family Services, and AJ Freund’s death is ’emblematic’ of DCFS failures, a startling new report by the DCFS Inspector General says.

The annual report shows that in the fiscal year which ended in June, of the 123 deaths, 24 were homicides, 37 were accidental, 21 were undetermined, 34 were natural, seven were suicide and seven are still pending a ruling.

“We, Illinois, must do better. We need to do more to support families early on, before they get into deep trouble. But when families are broken, we need to act decisively to protect children,” said Meryl Paniak, acting inspector general of DCFS.

DCFS had previous contact with the families in all of those 123 cases, the inspector general said in the report.

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“Our child welfare system must begin to analyze families in totality and in context, not focusing narrowly on the facts in the most recent hotline report. The death of AJ Freund, like the death of Joseph Wallace which led to the creation of the OIG, is emblematic of DCFS’s failure to look beyond the current crisis to consider the entire history of the family,” Paniak said.

The report says that state of the art safety assessments, training focused on lapses identified in the report, strong support and supervision of frontline workers and manageable caseloads are key to improving DCFS.

“Let’s not continue making the same mistakes which led to the deaths of Joseph Wallace, AJ Freund and so many other children in Illinois. Let’s use what we know to decrease the number of unnecessary deaths of Illinois children in the coming year,” Paniak said.

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The inspector general’s annual report was sent to Governor JB Pritzker and members of the General Assembly.