- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois’ child-welfare agency cannot properly account for thousands of runaway or otherwise missing foster-care children, is sloppy about keeping track of when they disappear and can rarely show that proper authorities are contacted when necessary, a report by Auditor General William Holland released Thursday found.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services does not keep track of how many children disappear in a given year or the locations from which they vanish, the audit found.

The agency reports that, during the 2011 and 2012 audit period, an estimated 2,800 to 3,100 foster children, or state wards, disappeared in 26,500 to 29,200 separate incidents.

The agency did not differentiate between those who had run away and those whose whereabouts caregivers did not immediately know. Of 29,000 incidents, 61 were reported as abductions, while the audit found 40 of those had been wrongly classified.

Holland noted that DCFS procedures emphasize “timely action to reduce risks to missing wards.”

“Agency management is responsible for planning, organizing, directing, and controlling its programs,” Holland wrote. “Given the noncompliance with procedures, management controls and monitoring need to be strengthened.”

The audit, ordered by the Illinois House in May 2013, indicated that DCFS agreed with the findings. Spokeswoman Veronica Resa said improvements are underway.

“Over the past two weeks, the department has already implemented additional controls,” Resa said. She later went on to say, “We are revising our procedures and will provide training on the new procedures to all affected staff.”

Caseworkers are required to “immediately” pursue missing-child reports, but there’s little documentation of the dates pursuit begins, so it’s impossible to gauge timeliness, Holland said. And caseworkers have different definitions of immediate: from within 24 to “as soon as practical given other priorities,” or longer.

One person interviewed told auditors that some workers have such heavy caseloads that attendance in the field, in court or visiting clients delayed beginning a search.

In nearly half of cases tested, Holland’s auditors found DCFS did not complete proper paperwork within the required two working days - in one case it took 98 days - and in nearly every case, there was no documentation that the disappearance had been reported to the police or other authorities, such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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Online: https://1.usa.gov/1GW3zd6

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Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor


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