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Child welfare office had investigated family nine times before 12-year-old boy died of drug overdose – KION546

By Chris Tye

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CHICAGO (WBBM) — The state’s child welfare office was called to investigate one Chicago family nine different times.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services looked into allegations of sexual misconduct, drug abuse, and neglect. And on the ninth visit, a 12-year-old was found dead from a drug overdose.

CBS 2’s Chris Tye has been investigating the system that failed 12-year-old Joel Watts.

In his 12 short years, Joel lived in “hell.” CBS 2 has been asking DCFS every day for five weeks to find out how he died and who dropped the ball.

The department says one of Joel’s 10 siblings was born addicted to drugs – and Joel himself died from them. The DCFS visits started six and a half years ago, but weren’t enough to keep Joel alive.

When his body was taken from the family’s home in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood this August, Joel had ethanol and fentanyl in his system, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s report obtained by CBS 2.

It was marked an opioid-related death, and the manner of death was marked as an “accident.”

But the accidents and incidents in Joel’s orbit were many. CBS 2 has obtained a report from the DCFS that shows the family – made up of 10 children between the ages of 4 and 25 – was visited by DCFS nine time from February 2016 until August 2022.

Several “noted concerns for abuse and neglect” appear in the report, but the kids were never removed.

The report said the kids had “cuts, bruises, welts, abrasions, and oral injuries/”

Joel first appeared in the reports in May 2017 – at age 7, he was identified as the child victim. The mother was named as the alleged perpetrator, being investigated for “medical neglect” and “environmental neglect.” Joel “sustained a fracture that required surgery,” the May 2017 DCFS report said.

The next month, a report said, the “father/paramour… was named as the alleged perpetrator,” being investigated for allegations of “sexual exploitation, sexual molestation, substantial risk of sexual abuse…. An investigator visited the family, there were noted concerns for possible sex abuse.”

In October that year, a “newborn child in the hospital… was substance-exposed by the mother.”

In December 2017, “the mother stated that she felt overwhelmed.”

Three years later, in January 2021, the “mother completed substance abuse program… and is committed to staying clean.”

Twenty months later, on Aug. 19 of this year, Joel died.

“The mother was named the alleged perpetrators… investigated for allegations of… death by neglect,” an August 2022 DCFS report read. “It is noted that the mother is pregnant, and the children were placed in a safety plan with a family member.”

Joel’s siblings remain in placement services.

Joel is the 10th child in 11 months on DCFS radar to have died.

We have reached out to Chicago Police and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to find out if either the mother or father have been arrested or charged. They said they have no information to share on this case.

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