The death of a one-year-old child in Joliet Township has Illinois' child-welfare agency on the defensive.
Department of Children and Family Services director George Sheldon testified Wednesday before a state Senate committee.
One-year-old Semaj Crosby was found dead, under a couch, last Thursday. Her mother had reported her missing a couple days earlier — and just before that, the family had been visited by a caseworker from Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services.
County investigators later declared the house uninhabitable, citing roaches, bedbugs and trash. But Sheldon tells senators his agents don't take kids away from parents "because of a dirty house.”
“You know, I think if we walk into a lot of homes, they might be untidy,” Sheldon says. “The child may be loved, and cared for, but they may be poor.”
He told senators the sheriff and coroner are still investigating, but suggested someone was trying to cover up the death.
“The child was found, as I understand it, under a couch,” he said. “No legs on the couch — the child doesn’t crawl under the couch. So obviously something is going on and apparently there was an individual or individuals who attempted to hide that fact.”
Sheldon says he’s seen Semaj's case records, and nothing in them warranted removing the child.
“There is no greater exercise of police power by government than to take somebody’s child away, so I think we’ve got to be very cautious about how we do that,” he says.
Sheldon told senators he's ordered a review of the case and is committed to "full transparency.” He says if it’s determined Semaj’s death was at the hands of a caregiver, he can release the records himself. If that’s not the case, he says he’ll support media attempts to access the files.
Sheldon also says he won’t simply “fire the lowest person on the totem pole,” adding, “that’s not reform.”