- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A 16-month-old girl was not removed from a filthy house during an investigator’s visit the day before she was found dead because Illinois’ child protection department does not take children into custody based on sanitary conditions alone, the department’s director told state lawmakers Wednesday.

Senators questioned Department of Children and Family Services Director George Sheldon closely Wednesday at an appropriations committee hearing where he testified about his agency’s proposed budget. Lawmakers wanted to know how his department is responding to the death of Semaj Crosby, who was found dead under a couch April 26 in Joliet Township, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Chicago.

“There is no greater exercise of police power by government than to take somebody’s child away, so I think we’ve got to be very cautious about how we do that,” Sheldon told news reporters after the hearing.

The family reported Semaj missing on April 25. The (Joliet) Herald-News reported that a Children and Family Services investigator answered an abuse and neglect call at the family’s home about an hour before but found no hazards or concerns. A Will County inspection two days later declared the home unfit for occupancy. It was filled with trash, and its walls and carpeting were soiled.

At a hearing Tuesday to determine where to place the girl’s brothers, a county judge said caseworkers missed obvious signs of trouble at the home.

Sheldon said his department is conducting a review to determine what it missed if anything, and how it did so. He expects the agency to complete its investigation within several days.

He also told lawmakers he would release records if police investigations determine the girl died at the hands of a caregiver. If the cause of death is ruled otherwise, Sheldon said, he would not have the authority to order the release. But he told news reporters later that he would “join the media” in asking for such records to be unsealed.

The coroner’s office in Will County said last week that an autopsy was inconclusive. It said final determinations will depend on toxicology results and the investigation by authorities.

During the Senate panel’s hearing, Sheldon questioned the circumstances of Semaj’s body being found beneath a couch that had no legs.

“Obviously something was going on and apparently an individual or individuals attempted to hide that fact,” he said.

It’s not clear who was in the home when the girl disappeared, authorities have said. The Will County Sheriff’s Office said last week that numerous squatters frequented the property.

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Follow Kiannah Sepeda-Miller at https://twitter.com/kiannahsepeda

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