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Springfield IL 62701-1498
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DCFS Director Bryan Samuels helps a child find a location on a state fair map.

DCFS strengthens its ability to find missing wards by updating digital photos of foster children at the State Fair

Springfield, IL, Aug. 13, 2004 - Fairgoers visiting the Department of Children and Family Services' tent, located across from the carnival midway, will be able to have family photos taken at this year's State Fair. A new photo area will be housed inside the blue DCFS tent and will serve a vital purpose - capturing digital photos of visiting foster children as part of the Department's ongoing effort to ensure their safety.

On an average, between 300 and 400 children served by DCFS are listed as runaways or are missing from their placements. Photographs of children stored in the DCFS missing children database help to expedite the tracking and identification of missing wards.

"The State Fair offers a great opportunity to update our missing children database," said DCFS Director Bryan Samuels, noting that annual photographs are required for each of the 18,600 children in DCFS care.

"Each year, our Department sends state fair entrance cards, meal tickets and discount ride tickets to more than 10,000 foster and adoptive family members as a way of saying thanks. Many of the families visit the DCFS tent during their stay, and it only takes a minute to take a digital photograph that may someday help save a child's life."

Early in his administration, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich convened a DCFS Task Force charged with identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the Illinois child welfare system and offering recommendations for reforms. One major finding was that the Department had failed to work aggressively to track and locate all children missing from authorized placements.

During the past year, DCFS has established a Child Location and Support Unit for Missing Children, and developed a computer tracking system unique to Illinois. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in partnership with DCFS, also provided staff specialized training focused on documenting and locating missing wards. Within months of these new operations, 86 percent (352) of the original 409 children identified as missing by the Governor's Task Force had been found. While the daily list of missing wards varies, significant declines have continued over the past year.

"The State Fair experience is a great way for DCFS to show its thanks to the families who have opened their homes to children who need their love and protection, as well as to recruit new foster and adoptive families," said Director Samuels. "This year, though, is special because technology is enabling us to take quick and easy steps to make children in our care safer in the future."

Fairgoers will also be able to enjoy a variety of entertainment, eat popcorn and ask child welfare experts how to become foster and adoptive parents. They will also be able to find out about how to apply for jobs with DCFS -- bilingual child welfare workers are especially needed.

Individuals with information about missing or abducted DCFS wards are encouraged to call the 24-hour hotline at 866-503-0184.

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Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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