When Christopher Valdez's mother took him into the emergency room with black eyes, bruises and a concussion, she told the Department of Child and Family Services the 5-year-old hit his head when he fell from the patio table. The boy was ordered to live with his grandmother.
Within a month of his injuries, he was back at home with his mother, Crystal Valdez.
But his home wasn't a safe place for Christopher. The boy was killed by Valdez's boyfriend, Cesar Ruiz, on Nov. 25, only hours before his fifth birthday party. Valdez has been charged with first-degree murder and he's pleaded not guilty.
In our latest investigation, Dying for Attention. we found that between fiscal years 2000 and 2011, 223 children were killed after the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had investigated their cases for alleged abuse or neglect. In more than two-thirds of those cases, the homicides were committed by a child's guardian, or someone in a relationship with the guardian. This category includes parents, relatives, foster family or, as in Christopher's case, the boyfriend or girlfriend of a parent.
Experts say that, in cases like these, investigators have to look beyond the testimony of the parents.
Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said that some of the focus has changed from looking closely at a child to being more concerned about listening to the caregivers, or alleged abusers.
"So some adult tells (the agency) something, and it doesn’t follow through on their own protocol (of interviewing the child), and the child ends up dead as a result of neglect or abuse,” Harris said. “I just think it’s kind of a breakdown in the efficiency of the department.”
Photo credit: Joe Gallo