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Agency Lost Contact on 3,000 Kids, It Says

Florida officials say some of those children had run away, others lived with relatives.

October 13, 2002|From Associated Press

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The state's child welfare agency says it was unable to contact more than 3,000 children in its care last month, the most since April, when its failure to keep track of a missing Miami girl was revealed.

Department of Children & Families caseworkers are required to make monthly visits to all 48,537 children under state care. In September, the department did not visit 3,185 children, up from 2,820 in August and 1,602 in July.

Some of the children ran away, others lived with relatives out of state or were away on vacation, but 1,786 of the children unaccounted for did not fall under those categories. The DCF said many of them weren't home when caseworkers arrived.

"We don't know if they're alive or lost or how many are at risk of other kinds of injuries," said David Bazerman, an attorney who represents foster children for Legal Aid Services of Broward County. "We don't know what's going on with them. That's not acceptable."

Of the 3,185 children the DCF failed to contact, 921 were living outside Florida with court permission and had no visit from a caseworker in the second state.

An additional 2,264 children living in Florida did not receive a visit from a DCF caseworker, including 299 runaways and 111 children who left their assigned placement with parents or relatives without notifying the state, officials said.

Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the monthly visits in April after 6-year-old Rilya Wilson of Miami was reported missing. Rilya's disappearance 15 months earlier went unnoticed by DCF workers who skipped the required monthly visits with the girl for more than a year.

The department still hadn't contacted 1,237 children by the May 31 deadline.

"How many months has it been since those 1,786 children haven't been seen?" asked Carolyn Salisbury, associate director of the University of Miami's Children and Youth Law Clinic. "How many more Rilya Wilsons may be out there?"

Last week, the DCF announced its previously reported total population of children was too low and did not include "runaways, absconded children, children placed in other states, children in long-term licensed custody, and children placed with families that are traveling, refusing contact with the department or have moved."

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