Home.

It's where we are nurtured, where we are protected, where we grow.

Except when it isn't.

In those cases, it's where horror can live. Because there's really nothing worse than having the ones who are supposed to love and care for you turn out to be the ones who kill you.

It happened to AJ Freund in his Crystal Lake home. And it appears to be what happened to Sema'j Crosby in her Joliet home two years earlier.

Cases such as these, the ones that torment us and keep our collective attention for years, are the ones that can lead to real change. It's why we continue to publish the details of what happened and look for answers on what should have happened in those homes to prevent the deaths that occurred.

In both deaths, police and Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services had multiple interactions with the families. But in neither case was the step taken to permanently remove the children from their homes.

When we embarked on our "System Failure" series, we were looking for answers, solutions and a way that our communities can rally after these events to work toward preventing them in the future.

In the coming months, Shaw Media Illinois will help you sort through the details of what DCFS' process looks like, how it works and how it doesn't. We'll hope to answer questions. And we'll look to go beyond the simple but necessary solution of firing the case workers, such as McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta and his supervisor, and see what systemic issues exist.

One example came up this week, when State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, sent out a press release which included Acosta's DCFS timecards, acquired via the Freedom of Information Act by Crystal Lake's Tracy Kotzman, who leads a group she calls ROAR for AJ.

As I told Kotzman when she initially received the documents and passed them along to us, we looked into why Acosta's timecards showed him on the clock at DCFS and also at a McHenry County Board meeting multiple times. We also got the answer. Acosta says DCFS requires all staff to take a one hour unpaid lunch break on the clock.

"All our contract says is that your lunch will be taken at the midpoint of your shift ... and you don't have to be at the work site during your lunch hour," Acosta said. "The established practice has been, if you take a morning off you come in after your lunch hour. If you take a morning off from 8:30 to 12 you report into the office at 1, not at 12, because you still have an unpaid lunch hour."

It's an important question in that Acosta certainly should have been working for DCFS when he was on the clock for DCFS. We have followed up and asked DCFS to clarify the timecard policy but have not yet received a response. While the timecard is important, it isn't the most important question when it comes to Freund's case.

That, as highlighted in Katie Smith's story in Saturday's edition, was what could have been done when AJ told a doctor nearly one year ago on Dec. 18, 2018, that a large bruise he had came when his mother had hit him.

There were plenty of other hotline calls, warnings from neighbors, but what would it have taken to actually take AJ Freund out of that home before he was killed?

We'll look to answer that question and other questions you might have, large or small, and then look to bring the community together to bring to light ways it can help in the process.

Part of that will be hearing from you and both learning and telling the story of your interactions with DCFS. You can learn more by contating your local newspaper's editor, myself or Shaw Media Illinois editor John Sahly.

We want to hear from you. We want to tell the complete story of DCFS and its processes in Illinois. And we want to help, so that maybe some child in the future does not have to meet the same fate.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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