Two state lawmakers said Friday that Illinois' budget crisis and Gov. Bruce Rauner share in the blame for the death of 1-year-old Semaj Crosby.
State Reps. LaShawn Ford and Mary Flowers, both Democrats representing Chicago, said that investigating DCFS for its role is not enough and predicted that without a budget compromise, more children will fall through the cracks.
The state's budget crisis has forced cuts at social service agencies that once were available to families in crisis. As the two lawmakers see it, Rauner needs to find a budget solution, while a spokesman for the governor said the lawmakers are politicizing a horrible tragedy.
"It's the governor's responsibility," said Ford. "It's his department and if the governor really cared as much about the children as he cares about selling the Thompson Center—DCFS would get the help that it needs.”
Flowers echoed Ford in placing the blame of Semaj's death on Rauner.
"This is on the governor’s watch, he said vote for me, and I’ll make these changes, but he didn’t tell us that he would create havoc in poor people’s lives,” Flowers said. “That’s not the change that people voted for."
DCFS had been in the Crosby home hours before the toddler went missing, and less than two days before she was found dead under a couch inside her family's Joliet home. Pictures taken show she was living in deplorable conditions and the home was full of cockroaches and garbage.
"DCFS workers for the most part are very hard workers,” Flowers said. “They’re overworked, underpaid—they’re required to do a lot with little.”
The legislators, joined Friday by an attorney with the Cook County Public Guardian, said they want an investigation of DCFS, adding that Semaj's death is proof of what happens when the state fails to reach a budget compromise.
"Children and their families rely on other services, mental health services, community mental health services, substance abuse services, child care," said Danielle Gomez, supervising attorney at the Office of the Cook County Public Guardian. "When those systems aren’t there to help families children suffer.”
The governor’s office refuted the accusations.
"This has nothing to do with the budget, and it’s sad that anyone would try to politicize this horrible tragedy. Like everyone across the state, the governor wants answers on how such a horrific tragedy could happen," a spokesperson for Rauner said Friday. "The Will County Sheriff, DCFS and other agencies are actively investigating and we are anxiously awaiting their findings. Something like this should never happen – and we need to find out exactly why it did. As an administration, we will remain committed to do anything and everything possible to protect the children of Illinois and improve the Department of Children and Family Services."