Photograph of Christine Valdez, 5, Christopher Valdez, 4, and their mother, Crystal Valdez | courtesy photo | Sun-Times
Updated: January 1, 2012 8:22AM
Social workers’ handling of the tragic Christopher Valdez child abuse case has been criticized as “crazy” by Cook County’s top child welfare official.
Speaking on Tuesday as relatives of Valdez’s mother vigorously defended her against charges of murder filed Monday, Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris said the boy should not have been returned to his mom following her criminal conviction for battering him last month.
Spared jail by a judge, Crystal Valdez helped her boyfriend, Cesar Ruiz, beat Christopher to death on his 4th birthday at their Southwest Side home Friday, prosecutors alleged.
The boy’s life might have been saved if Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigators had intervened more aggressively, Harris said.
Referring to DCFS’s ruling in August that there was “no credible evidence” of abuse in the earlier attack, Harris said, “It’s crazy that there could be a criminal finding of guilt but that DCFS did not make a similar finding.”
Harris’ office was not involved in the case but if the case had been referred to a juvenile division judge, instead of being handled in a domestic relations court, the Public Guardian’s office would have represented Christopher in court and he would “likely” have been placed in a relative’s care, Harris said.
The DCFS inspector general is probing the state agency’s handling of the case, DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said Tuesday. The DCFS’ Child Death Review Team will also see if lessons can be learned.
Both internal probes are expected to consider how Valdez’s tearful confession to the earlier attack in July and the injuries that Christopher suffered were overlooked or disregarded by the DCFS investigation.
Marlowe said it was “too soon” to comment on any disciplinary action being taken against any DCFS staff. He also would not comment on whether the investigators involved in the Valdez case are currently investigating allegations of abuse in other cases.
The scandal comes at a difficult time for the department, whose director, Erwin McEwan, left in September. His replacement, Richard Calica, is not due to start until Dec. 15. Acting Director D. Jean Ortega-Piron declined to comment Tuesday.
Her refusal came as Crystal Valdez’s family spoke out Tuesday against Valdez’s lover Ruiz. Though Crystal’s sister-in-law Katrine Valdez and her husband discovered Christopher’s brutally beaten corpse wrapped in a blanket, alerted authorities and gave statements that helped build a case against Crystal Valdez, they believe Ruiz manipulated her into confessing to a crime he had committed.
Crystal, who has special-educational needs and “doesn’t understand anything unless it is explained to her four or five times,” is “blinded by love” and took the blame for the earlier attack to spare Ruiz, Katrine Valdez said.
Crystal’s father, Thomas Valdez, agreed. His daughter “changed completely” when she got together with Ruiz in April, he said, describing Ruiz as “a demon.”
But Ruiz’s family Monday pointed to Crystal’s earlier conviction as evidence she is the killer.