Did DCFS Drop the Ball on a Baby's Death

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A 15-month-old is dead after investigators say she was suffocated by her mom, 23-year-old Jennifer Stahl. The woman now faces involuntary manslaughter charges.

But, questions remain about how DCFS handled prior complaints about the family.

DCFS administrators in Chicago say there is a caseworker shortage at Rockford’s DCFS office, that's one of several things investigators will be looking at as they determine what led up to the infant’s death.

The DCFS says Jennifer Stahl has been investigated three times over the past two years.

Neighbors say they've made numerous calls about child abuse and neglect.

DCFS administrators tell 23 News they plan to fill vacant case worker positions in Rockford, by transferring case workers from other locations.

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Types of Child Abuse

Child abuse is harm to, or neglect of, a child by another person, whether adult or child. Child abuse happens in all cultural, ethnic and income groups. Child abuse can be physical, emotional/verbal, sexual or through neglect.

Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained or repeated injuries such as welts, bruises, or burns.

  • Injuries that are in the shape of an object (belt buckle, electric cord, etc.)

  • Injuries not likely to happen given the age or ability of the child. For example, broken bones in a child too young to walk or climb.

  • Disagreement between the child's and the parent's explanation of the injury.

  • Unreasonable explanation of the injury.

  • Obvious neglect of the child (dirty, undernourished, inappropriate clothes for the weather, lack of medical or dental care).

  • Fearful behavior.

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

  • Aggressive or withdrawn behavior.

  • Shying away from physical contact with parents or adults.

  • Afraid to go home.

Sexual Abuse

  • Child tells you he/she was sexually mistreated.

  • Child has physical signs such as: difficulty in walking or sitting, stained or bloody underwear, genital or rectal pain, itching, swelling, redness, or discharge, bruises or other injuries in the genital or rectal area.

  • Child has behavioral and emotional signs such as: difficulty eating or sleeping, soiling or wetting pants or bed after being potty trained, acting like a much younger child, excessive crying or sadness, withdrawing from activities and others, talking about or acting out sexual acts beyond normal sex play for age.

Family Situations Conducive to Child Abuse

  • Families who are isolated and have no friends, relatives, church or other support systems.

  • Parents who tell you they were abused as children.

  • Families who are often in crisis (have money problems, move often).

  • Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol.

  • Parents who are very critical of their child.

  • Parents who are very rigid in disciplining their child.

  • Parents who show too much or too little concern for their child.

  • Parents who feel they have a difficult child.

  • Parents who are under a lot of stress.

What You Can Do

  • Take the child to a quiet, private area.

  • Gently encourage the child to give you enough information to evaluate whether abuse may have occurred.

  • Remain calm so as not to upset the child.

  • If the child reveals the abuse, reassure him/her that you believe him/her, that he/she is right to tell you, and that he/she is not bad.

  • Tell the child you are going to talk to persons who can help him/her.

  • Return the child to the group (if appropriate).

  • Record all information.

  • Immediately report the suspected abuse to the proper local authorities. In most states, reporting suspected abuse is required by law.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/hip/abc/intro5.htm (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).