On April of 2019, in McHenry County, Illinois five-year-old AJ Freund suffered multiple blunt force injuries that caused brain damage and was buried in a shallow grave wrapped in plastic. And the parents, Joann Cunningham, Andrew "Drew" Freund Sr. are to blame and the Illinois child welfare system are to blame.
AJ's story begins at his birth when he was found to have opiates in his system. This lead to the temporary removal of 19 months away from his family. Then he was placed back into his family's care despite that his mother was already well known at DCFS due to being apart of the foster care system.
Cunningham was a licensed foster parent. Back in 2012, she had two complaints against her for inadequate supervision and neglect due to the abuse of prescription drugs and mental health issues. AJ was born in 2013.
Is there anything wrong with placing a biological child back into the care of their biological parent that is an addict? No, because people can overcome addiction and clean up their lives. It has happened before and it can happen to any current addict.
There is a problem when you place a biological child back into the care of biological parents that are using. Throughout the course of AJ's five years on this Earth, police were called to the home 17 seventeen times for allegations of neglect and drug abuse. That calculates to roughly every two and a half months of AJ's life after being placed back into his family's care, the authorities were called.
Every two and a half months of Aj's life, the state of Illinois was given a chance to take him out of his parents care.
Two times throughout the year of 2018, the family was investigated for neglect and abuse. The home was reported to have dog feces and urine throughout the home in which AJ lived. The windows and flooring were reported being broken and jagged. In the kitchen, the ceiling had water damage along with exposure of pipping - the door "appeared to be covered in a brown substance".
The authorities being notified was not the only way AJ could have gotten out. In fact, last December AJ was asked by his doctor what was the cause of a bruise on his hip. AJ's replied with "maybe someone hit me with a belt...maybe mommy didn't mean to hurt me." A report was made to a hotline, but it was determined there was not enough credible evidence to take AJ into custody.
Now, a bruise a child is not evidence that a child should leave the custody of their parents. If that was the case, we would all be in the foster care system, because kids are naturally prone to get bruises from other instances outside of abuse.
The bruise on AJ's body in addition to what he had told the doctor was not credible evidence due to the word "maybe". However, a bruise on a child's body was not enough credible evidence in addition to the laundry list of home visits made by police with details of the home environment AJ lived in. What a pathetic excuse and what shame this should bring on the State of Illinois.
AJ's parents were taken into custody and are facing multiple charges. Cunningham: 5 counts of first-degree murder, 4 counts of aggravated battery, 2 counts of aggravated domestic battery, and 1 count of failure to report a missing or child death. Freund Sr.: 5 counts of first-degree murder, 2 counts of aggravated battery, 1 count of aggravated domestic battery, 2 counts of concealment of a homicidal death, and 1 count of failure to report a missing or child death. Bail is set at five million dollars.
On his time on Earth, AJ only knew the harsh reality of abuse and neglect that no child should ever have to face. The Illinois justice system failed AJ and is continuing to fail other children like AJ every day. It brings a great burden to my heart knowing that an event like this may not even bring about change in the child care system.
It is my prayer that reform is made and that other children just like AJ are given the life they deserve by being brought out of the hell that they live in. Reform cannot happen though if we all stay silent.
Residents of Illinois, write your politicians, write your local DCFS branch. Go to your local police departments and find out ways that you can volunteer to help. Don't just sit on your phone and repost the articles, for that did nothing AJ and it will not do anything for the kids who need out of these situations. Get on your feet and do something.