DCFS employees support AJ Freund caseworker after jailing: ‘People don’t understand the trauma we deal with’

As a prosecutor addressed members of the media Thursday after the sentencing of 5-year-old AJ Freund’s former child protection investigator, employees of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services voiced their frustration.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally met with reporters outside the courthouse after Carlos Acosta, 58, the former DCFS investigator, was sentenced to six months of jail time and 30 months of probation. Kenneally told reporters that he was satisfied with the sentence and prayed that AJ’s death would not be in vain.

“We pray that all he suffered has already saved lives. … This (case) is fundamentally about accountability,” Kenneally said, adding that Acosta failed to do his job and left the Crystal Lake boy, who later was killed by his mother, “to contend with a sociopath and sadist.”

“We hope this is a wake-up call,” Kenneally said. “This is someone who showed utter and complete indifference of a child.”

As Kenneally addressed reporters, Alex Medina, identified as a DCFS employee for the past 30 years, shouted that prosecuting Acosta, who — in a rare move — was charged criminally and convicted of child endangerment, was a “witch hunt.”

Eventually, Medina, who was one of seven DCFS employees in court to support Acosta, took over the microphones set up by various TV stations. He said people at higher levels within DCFS should be held accountable, that investigators “are people too,” caseloads are higher than what is legally allowed, and their jobs take them away from self-care and their own families.

“You have no idea what (investigators) go through,” Medina said.

He went on to say there is a “complete disregard” by DCFS officials for the legal number of caseloads and blamed the media for not telling the true story.

“It is a broken system,” he said.

Kenneally later responded that “anyone who says this is a witch hunt is deliberately or deceitfully ignoring the clear facts of this case and painstaking findings of an impartial judge. Accountability for many is a hard thing to accept, especially those operating so long with impunity.”

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Chyaire Brown, a former DCFS investigator and now a supervisor in the Joliet office, said Acosta has a lot of support from DCFS employees. She said AJ’s death was tragic and maybe Acosta did not do everything he could have, but their jobs are dangerous and stressful. Since 2022, DCFS workers who work out in the field are trained to wear protective gear and use mace.

“We are human beings as well,” said Brown, who lives in Downers Grove and has been an investigator with DCFS for five years and worked in child welfare for 21. “We should not have to wear bulletproof vests as an investigator.”

The case loads, legally allowed to be 12 per caseworker per month, in reality is between 31 and 82, Brown said in her office overseeing Will and Grundy counties. Managing all the cases, including writing up all the notes for each case, easily turns into at least 12-hour days. Investigators also are expected to be on call 24 hours, Brown said.

She said she has had to file for orders of protection and no-stalking and no-contact orders. Clients have threatened DCFS investigators, and someone “shot up” the Joliet office, she said. She also said a client once released personal information about a DCFS investigator on TikTok.

“People don’t understand the trauma that we deal with every day,” Brown said. “Not just the trauma that we have to see, but the trauma we have to go through. All they think is we are taking kids. We want to make sure kids are safe — that is our first priority — but we are not safe. How can we really be able to do a full investigation to see if a child is being abused or neglected?”

Brown noted the deaths of two DCFS investigators, Pamela Knight from the Dixon office in 2018 and Deidre Silas of the Springfield office in 2022. Silas’s murder prompted DCFS workers to be equipped with bulletproof vests and mace, she said.

Brown believes that Acosta’s conviction is going to set a precedent for things to come.

“This can happen to any of us, anyone in the field,” she said.

Brown said she and others with DCFS are planning a town hall meeting in Joliet to address the issues and inform the public about DCFS and their jobs. Medina and Brown said they are speaking out as private citizens and not as representatives of DCFS.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.