Sketch of parents and children. (Susie Ang for ProPublica)

At 9 years old, L.J. started missing school. His parents said they would homeschool him. It took two years — during which he was beaten and denied food — for anyone to notice he wasn’t learning.

Heidi Mueller, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, appears on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on May 8, 2024. (WTTW News)

Heidi Mueller was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in February. She is the 13th director in 14 years.

(WTTW News)

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and several other state agencies are holding a job fair Thursday at the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work.

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert appears on “Chicago Tonight: Black Voices” on Feb. 14, 2024. (WTTW News)
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The person who advocates in court for children who’ve been abused or neglected said the state’s Department of Children and Family Services is not only failing to meet the needs of kids in its care — but that the situation is getting worse.

Heidi Mueller, the current head of Illinois’ Juvenile Justice Department, has been picked to lead DCFS. (Credit: State of Illinois)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced that he’ll appoint Heidi Mueller, the current head of Illinois’ Juvenile Justice Department, to head the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) starting in February.

(WTTW News)

Lake County Judge George Strickland found Carlos Acosta, 57 of Woodstock, who was a case investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, guilty of the child endangerment charge but acquitted him of a reckless conduct charge.

Illinois DCFS Director Marc Smith appears on “Chicago Tonight” in 2019. (WTTW News)

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith will resign effective Dec. 31, he told colleagues in an all-staff town hall meeting Wednesday morning.

(WTTW News)

DCFS gained more than 100 employees between 2021 and 2022. Public health employees declined.

WTTW News analyzed state salary data and found some departments got smaller or had a noticeable uptick in employees leaving. Even in agencies that grew, employee churn was evident. We walk you through the numbers. 

(WTTW News)

A federal lawsuit alleges that rather than housing children in appropriate settings, DCFS allowed them to remain locked in juvenile jails without access to proper educational, medical and mental health supports.

Nikko Jhmarii Robinson, 22, spent most of his life in foster care. He is now working with a mentor and support system. (Medill))
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In Cook County, Black youth account for more than 70% of the child welfare system. Meanwhile, Black residents make up only 23% of the county’s total population. As of February 2022, there are more than 4,000 Black children in foster care in Cook County.

(WTTW News)
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Illinois’ Department of Children and Family Services has been struggling to find proper placements, particularly for high-needs youth for whom the agency is having to stand in as a pseudo parent. So much so that some children and teens who have had a stint at a psychiatric hospital are there after they’ve been cleared for release because there’s nowhere for them to go. 

Marc Smith, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, discusses the stabbing death of state child welfare worker Diedre Silas during a news conference on Jan. 5, 2022, in Springfield. (AP Photo / John O'Connor)
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Illinois officials are seeking answers after the killing last week of a state child welfare worker during a home visit — the second such tragedy to occur in less than five years.

In 2019, ProPublica Illinois reported that the state’s child welfare agency was failing to serve Spanish-speaking families by not offering Spanish-speaking caseworkers and placing children into homes where Spanish wasn’t spoken. (WTTW News)

A new report says Illinois’ child welfare agency is failing to serve Spanish-speaking children and families in their language. ProPublica Illinois reporter Melissa Sanchez has details.

This undated photo provided by the Crystal Lake, Illinois Police Department shows Andrew “AJ” Freund. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

Two former Illinois child welfare workers who investigated abuse allegations involving AJ Freund face child endangerment charges accusing them of failing to protect him from harm, according to an indictment filed Friday.

In this July 16, 2020 file photo, JoAnn Cunningham, cries and wipes her nose during her sentencing hearing in Woodstock, Ill. On Friday, June 17, 2020 Cunningham was sentenced to 35 years in prison for beating her five-year-old son to death in April of 2019. (John Starks / Daily Herald via AP Pool File)

A northern Illinois woman who subjected her young son to years of physical and emotional abuse culminating in his beating death last year was on Friday sentenced to 35 years in prison.

This undated photo provided by the Crystal Lake, Illinois Police Department shows Andrew “AJ” Freund. (Crystal Lake Police Department via AP)

The hearing is expected to end on Friday with McHenry County Judge Robert Wilbrandt sentencing 37-year-old JoAnn Cunningham. She has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the beating death of her son, Andrew “AJ” Freund.