SPRINGFIELD – Up to 3100 kids in the state’s custody were nowhere to be found in 2011 to 2012, a report filed Thursday by Illinois Auditor General Bob Holland says.
“There should be no higher priority for DCFS than ensuring the safety and welfare of children in the state’s care,” State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) said. “These audit findings underscore the agency’s failure to meet that most basic necessity and how the lives of literally thousands of young people have been jeopardized as a result.”
Holland’s report responded to a House resolution passed last May, which instructed the auditor general to determine the number of children reported missing in 2011 and 2012 that are listed with the Department of Children and Family Services, whether the department staff made timely reports of missing children and what steps DCFS followed to locate and recover those thousands of missing children.
The report found:
DCFS did not have reports for management on the total number of missing wards during the year and the location from where the wards went missing.
DCFS estimated 2,800 to 3,100 wards went missing 26,500 to 29,200 times during 2011-2012 (combined) but the data had limitations and was not complete
Procedures establish specific time requirements for caseworkers to report to specific parties, such as “immediately” or “within two working days,” but a key date for determining timeliness of search procedures was not recorded, such as the date when the caseworker learned that a ward was missing
Caseworkers sometimes learned about a missing ward first but did not inform the DCFS Child Location and Support Unit for Missing Children (CLSU).
There was a lack of documentation to indicate if supervisory review of missing child cases had been performed.
Although the state is in dire financial straits, Bellock called for reforms to find missing wards of the state.
“Reforms are urgently needed to fix the broken system of reporting and locating missing kids. DCFS officials need to demonstrate what actions they’re taking to correct this tragedy and the General Assembly must be prepared to respond as needed to find and protect these kids,” Bellock said.
A recent series of news stories raised concerns among the public and lawmakers about how the state is checking foster parents background and the situatios in which the department is entrusting state wards. The reports involved cases of physical and sexual abuse of children in state custody; including exposure to drugs, acts of violence and forced prostitution.
The House Human Services Committee is scheduled to meet to discuss the news reports and the auditor general’s report in Chicago on January 7.