Matthew Degner, 14, Found Dead In Squalid Chicago Home Among 200 Animals

During a presentation to 50 social workers I commented on how long children were enduring horrible abuse before being investigated & anything could be done to remove the children from the abuse.

People commented that it was even worse than I had described it. One social worker stated that there was such a high bar set for responding that by the time she and her colleagues were granted permission to investigate, most children have spent two to three years in terrifically abusive homes and were damaged for life.

Her advice to us was to report animal abuse because animal abuse gets investigated & when it is investigated, those people see things that can trigger a social worker saving a child.

This seemed pathetic to me at the time, but now I tell people how important it is.

We are now suffering through the worst abandonment of civic responsibility to American children in my lifetime. The child that died in the Chicago home above, is another powerful example of a hardening of our hearts and disregard for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

Service providers are so over worked and under resourced that only the worst of the worst cases are being investigated. About one in three reports is investigated today where I live in Hennepin County MN.

When the 18 month old baby drowned in the Minneapolis bathtub after 14 police calls to the home, Star Tribune reporters called me to gather information on how this tragedy can happen. My related case had 49 calls to the home before the children were removed (a prostituted seven year old and her five year old sister).

Normally when a baby drowns or is found in a dumpster, social workers are blamed, much like teachers are blamed for failing students, or the police are blamed for “not caring enough” about my accident or rape.

The next time one of your friends complains about the indifferent police, problems in the courts, schools or social services, remind them that we the service providers are working harder than ever, with fewer resources, more children, and a growing feeling of abandonment.

The caseloads are so high, the morale is so low, and the failure to fund new programs and make small cost effective improvements because of budget restraints ensures that our failures and unhappiness can only grow until the demand for attention, understanding, and change is heard.

We are in this terrible place where children drown in bathtubs and die in cages for the same reason the 35W bridge collapsed and killed and injured 160 people. We think we’re saving money.

The economic reality is that maintenance of children and bridges pays. When we don’t spend the small money to save children, bridges, and our communities, we have to pay the big money instead.

Instead of saving the 5 million dollars to replace the gussets on the 35W bridge, we spent almost a Billion dollars to rebuild it (not counting the human suffering).

Instead of saving the relatively small amounts of money to make life bearable for abused and neglected children, we pay millions over their lifetime for chronic illness, the burden on schools, social workers, crime, preteen pregnancy, & prisons (not including the human suffering).

Convince yourself, your family, and your friends that not voting, or not voting for the party that supports programs that improve the lives of children is ruining young lives and destroying our community.

Don’t be confused by the fear mongering and political rhetoric. Every vote counts. Pass this article onto someone you think needs to see it.


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Huffington Post

The mother of a 14-year-old boy who died Thursday is under investigation after police found more than 200 animals in their squalid suburban Chicago home.

Neighbors of the Berwyn, Illinois family told NBC Chicago 14-year-old Matthew Degner’s lifeless body was dragged outside by family members Thursday, who presumably hoped that authorities would not look inside the home. Police did, however, and were horrified by what they found.

“Our animal control officers who have been in some pretty horrific and disgusting environments said this home was easily the worst they’ve been in,’’ sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Degner was pronounced dead at MacNeal Hospital Thursday afternoon. An autopsy showed that he died from bronchopneumonia.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services took custody of three of the boy’s siblings, ages 12 to 17, according to the Chicago Tribune. A fourth sibling, who is 18, was hospitalized.

Officials told NBC that all of the children were suffering from flu-like symptoms recently.

From the Tribune:

Officials said it was unclear whether the animals or living conditions were responsible for the children’s illnesses. A spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health said the agency’s communicable disease unit had not been asked to respond as part of the investigation.

Neighbors told NBC that the children appeared malnourished and never attended school. DCFS told the Tribune they were kept in isolation, and rarely left the home they shared with their mother and grandmother.

“Social isolation is one of the most powerful risk factors for serious harm to children,” DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe told the Tribune. “If we as a community never knock on that door that no one ever seems to open, we may never know how bad it is or how we can help.”

Birds were flying freely in the home and dozens of cats were sick, hungry and surrounded by feces. Animal Control also found dogs, rabbits, squirrels, one raccoon, two monkeys and two kinkajous, according to NBC. The Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge helped remove the animals, bringing 196 of them to their southwest suburban shelter. Anyone wishing to help with the rescued animals can visit or call (708) 636-8586.

No charges had been filed against the boy’s mother as of Saturday morning



  1. What can we do to change this plight. You mentioned getting out to vote, but there is something we must be able to do while we wait for politicians to change policy. Help me help the situation.

  2. Raising awareness of our friends, families, and neighbors will help. Because social workers are trained to not speak to others about these issues, the media doesn’t know much and politicians are poorly informed. For false and selfish reasons, politicians are blaming teachers, social workers, and caregivers for the problems of America’s children.

    Understanding the issues is critical to the saving of children, our schools and communities.

    A grassroots movement of concerned citizens is needed. Abused and neglected children have no voice in America. We must be that voice.

  3. I am an advocate for children . The name of the program i belong to is CASA of Los Angeles. All of these articles are truly heart breaking, especially when having to deal with DCFS. System really does need to change for the sake of all the abused and neglected children.

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