Government Reform

Child Careless

Florida caseworkers lose kids

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Florida's child welfare system has sported a black eye since it finally admitted last April that 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, allegedly under its supervision, was missing. It turned out the caseworkers hadn't done their monthly check-ins on Rilya for 15 months. Now the Sun-Sentinel, a regional paper in South Florida, has added a bloody nose with an investigation proving that reporters can do in a few hours what Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) can't do at all.

In August the paper picked 24 children from the state's official list of missing kids ostensibly under the DCF's care, most of them under age 4. The reporters located two of them in less than three hours and within a month had found seven more. They did this without access to any DCF files, merely using public records and calling relatives. Four missing brothers were found playing in a city football league in a neighborhood a mile from a DCF office.

DCF policy says that a caseworker who finds that a child is missing should immediately notify police and the state's missing children center, and get a court order authorizing law enforcement to take the kid into custody if he's found. The Sun-Sentinel found that in 20 of the 24 cases they examined, DCF took at least a month to notify the cops. In six of those cases, the wait was over four years.