The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has reached a $6.45 million settlement with the family of a 17-month-old toddler after the child was found five years ago dead and stuffed beneath a couch in Joliet Township.
The lawsuit was bought on by Attorney Jay Paul on behalf of Semaj’s father and siblings, according to NBC 5 Chicago.
The lawsuit “blamed Children’s Home and Aid, a contractor of the Department of Children and Family Services, for failing to protect the child and remove her from her mother’s home, which was in squalor conditions,” CBS News further detailed.
“They failed in a lot of ways, and they had a contract with DCFS, but DCFS also failed significantly,” said Deratany of Children’s Home and Aid. “They were in the home, they were supposed to go there, they’re also supposed to monitor their contracts.”
The attorney shared with NBC 5 that the money awarded from the settlement will go into a trust for each of the toddlers four siblings and that the children will each likely gain access to the funds after they turn 18 years of age.
The baby’s mother is allegedly the last person to see the child alive. It is unclear whether she’ll have access to settlement funds.
“There’s a lower standard in probate court,” Deratany explained. “So, if the court by preponderance of the evidence that she was responsible for the death of [the child], then she will not get any money.”
No one was ever charged with the child’s death and the case is still open and ongoing.
The toddler’s death was ruled a homicide by smothering — and days after Semaj’s body was found in a “cockroach-infested home,” the residence was burned, subsequently destroying evidence.
“Improvements in child welfare are never quick or easy,” the DCFS told NBC 5 in a statement. “Many of the challenges we face are longstanding and entrenched, but everyone in this administration is deeply committed to overcoming them and providing the care that our vulnerable children and families truly deserve.”