Auditor General: DCFS failed to report missing kids

SPRINGFIELD – The Auditor General today released a troubling audit on the failure of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to report missing children in state custody dating back to 2011. The audit comes on the heels of an ongoing investigation into abuse and lack of supervision in DCFS residential facilities, the subject of an upcoming Illinois House hearing scheduled for January 7. The reports involve cases of physical and sexual abuse of children in state custody; including exposure to drugs, acts of violence and forced prostitution.

The audit released today was conducted in response to a legislative measure adopted in May, HR 120, directing the Office of the Auditor General to conduct a management audit of the DCFS search for missing children. The Resolution asked the audit to determine for calendar years 2011–2012: (1) the number of children reported missing; (2) whether timely reports of missing children were made to required parties; and (3) the steps followed to locate and recover missing children, including compliance with procedures.

 
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.
Deputy House Minority Leader Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale), the Republican Spokesperson on the Human Services Appropriations Committee, responded to the audit’s findings and called upon lawmakers and DCFS officials to take appropriate action.

"There should be no higher priority for DCFS than ensuring the safety and welfare of children in the state’s care,” Bellock 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. 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.”

The House Human Services Committee is scheduled to meet in Chicago on January 7 to receive testimony regarding documented abuse at DCFS residential facilities. The Auditor General’s report on missing wards is also likely to be a subject of discussion for proposed reforms throughout the DCFS system.

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