Editorials

Babies die, state agency reviews, fails to learn from mistakes

Baby suffocates sharing grimy mattress with family

Baby Matthew Elkins didn't survive even two months in a house so filled with trash that most of his eight siblings and parents slept on the same grimy mattress. He suffocated on that mattress Jan. 31.
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Baby Matthew Elkins didn't survive even two months in a house so filled with trash that most of his eight siblings and parents slept on the same grimy mattress. He suffocated on that mattress Jan. 31.

Matthew Elkins didn’t even survive two months in the trash-filled, vermin-infested house of his parents. The ninth Elkins child turned over in his car seat and died Jan. 31, face down on a mattress turned brown by the filth from his parents and many of his eight siblings sleeping there and on the floor.

It is an infuriating story, but even in a story with so much despair and dysfunction there was a moment that stands out. That was when an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services worker who was diligently trying to fix this so-broken family was called off the case by a supervisor.

DCFS offered no explanation for the move.

Comments after the story was published included a DCFS defender. The person said there are so many young lives that DCFS helps, and we never hear about them.

Right. And we shouldn’t.

Being a DCFS caseworker is a lot like being an airline pilot. You are expected to get it right every single time. A 99 percent success rate is too low. Any failure means someone dies.

Baby Matthew Elkins and Semaj Crosby were in that 1 percent.

After Semaj’s death, DCFS ended a program that rewarded caseworkers for quickly closing out cases. You have to wonder what motivated that DCFS supervisor to determine this alcoholic, mentally ill father who repeatedly isolated his family did not warrant constant attention. Who would let nine children remain with a mother who allowed pet waste and trash to fill her house to the point that bedrooms and bathrooms could no longer be entered?

After a child dies, DCFS does a review to determine what went wrong and what could have been done. We’ve reported on them before, and we expect to report on them again.

What do you do with someone or something who is taught the same lesson over and over and over and still fails to get it right? Shame on DCFS, shame on our state’s leadership for allowing this, and shame on us if we accept the deaths of children that could have been prevented.

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