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As AJ Freund's pregnant mother faces murder charge in his death, what happens when her baby is born?

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/25/2019 By Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune

a person sitting at a table: A woman and child hug near a memorial outside the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill. Andrew's body was found in a wooded area Wednesday morning, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder.

A woman and child hug near a memorial outside the home of 5-year-old Andrew "AJ" Freund on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Crystal Lake, Ill. Andrew's body was found in a wooded area Wednesday morning, and the boy's parents have been charged with his murder.
© John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS

CHICAGO — As the pregnant mother of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund faces murder and other charges in connection to his death, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will be coordinating a plan for custody once her baby is born.

JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund of Crystal Lake are being held in the McHenry County jail in lieu of $5 million bail after authorities discovered what they believe to be the body of their son in a shallow grave near Woodstock.

Cunningham is seven months pregnant. If she’s incarcerated at the time of the birth, DCFS would be contacted by either the hospital where she delivers or the jail or prison where she’s housed, said Jassen Strokosch, spokesman for the state’s child welfare agency.

Medical care for the baby would be the same as if the mother were not incarcerated, he said.

“The child receives the same care,” Strokosch said. “First and foremost is the safety of that child.”

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Once the baby is able to leave the hospital, he said, the agency would take the child into protective custody unless the parents make alternate arrangements to place the child with a relative.

“We would still monitor that situation, but it would be based on their choice,” Strokosch said. “They would drive that choice.”

He added that the state typically prefers to place children with other family members when possible.

“Being removed from a birth parent is traumatic enough in itself,” he said. “Whenever the process involves people they already know, it reduces the impact of that trauma.”

AJ’s father had called police April 18 to report the boy missing, according to authorities.

On Wednesday, Cunningham and Freund were charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated domestic battery, and failure to report a missing child or child death. Freund was also charged with concealment of a homicidal death.

“This is sad to say, but it’s not all that uncommon for DCFS to be caring for a child because a birth parent is incarcerated,” Strokosch said.

AJ’s younger brother was placed in the care of DCFS last week after AJ was reported missing. A custody hearing in that case is scheduled for Monday in McHenry County.

The agency has been involved with the family since AJ was born with opiates in his system in 2013. DCFS then investigated two subsequent allegations of neglect. In December 2018, police reported unacceptable living conditions in the home, including dog feces and urine on the ground, broken windows and floors and water damage on the ceiling. Agency officials, however, determined allegations of child neglect were unsubstantiated.

In a statement, DCFS Acting Director Marc Smith called AJ’s death “heartbreaking.”

“The department is committed to conducting a comprehensive review of the entirety of our work with Andrew’s family to understand our shortcomings and to be fully transparent with the public on any steps we are taking to address the issues,” he said.

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(Chicago Tribune’s Robert McCoppin contributed to this report.)

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©2019 Chicago Tribune

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