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FBI agents Kristin Cadieux (left) and Tina Fourkas (right) received DCFS Law Enforcement Awards from Director Samuels for thier roles in locating missing wards. Nck Argentine, the Cook County State's Attorney’s senior supervisor for all suburban trial support units, also received a DCFS Law Enforcement Award at the May 3 ceremony.

DCFS honors law enforcement officers who helped reduce population of missing wards

Chicago, IL (May 3, 2004) - The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) honored two FBI agents and a supervisor for the Cook County State’s Attorney at a training conference aimed at continuing successful efforts to reduce the number of wards missing from state care.

“The challenge of runaway and other missing wards has been a chronic problem for child welfare agencies nationwide,” said DCFS director Bryan Samuels at a statewide training event hosted by DCFS and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “The individuals we recognize today highlight the importance of dedicated people from different organizations working together to protect vulnerable children.”

In May 2003, Director Samuels convened the Illinois Task Force on Missing Children to create a statewide strategic plan locate missing wards and review issues related to youths absent from care. Since then, the Department has created a 24-hour runaway helpline and a new unit responsible for coordinating efforts to return missing wards. More than 94 percent of the 409 DCFS wards reported missing when the Task Force was created have since been found.

The second annual DCFS Law Enforcement Awards were presented during ceremonies held at the James R. Thompson Center, in conjunction with a multi-agency training event on issues surrounding missing and abducted children. Up to a thousand child welfare and juvenile justice professionals are anticipated to attend the one-day training sessions scheduled in Chicago, Bloomington and Fairview Heights.

Two awards went to FBI agents Tina Fourkas and Kristin Cadieux, who head thee FBI’s Chicago Task Force on Child Prostitution. Much of their work focuses on the plight of runaway children who become targets for opportunistic sex offenders, drug dealers, pornographers and pimps. Since the creation of the Task Force last summer, agents Fourkas and Cadieux have regularly worked with DCFS staff, and have dealt compassionately with the child victims they tracked down hundreds of leads.

Another award was presented to Nick Argentine, the Cook County State's Attorney’s senior supervisor for all suburban trial support units. Argentine holds a well-earned reputation as the Cook County State's Attorney's "go-to-guy" for missing children. His investigative skills, coupled with a dedication to serve juveniles, has helped to build a strong collaboration with DCFS. Regardless of the circumstance, he has accepted every request for help in locating and picking up missing DCFS wards in the State’s most populous county, where more than 60 percent of children in substitute care reside. Argentine’s dogged determination, coupled with a remarkable ability to understand the complex issues associated with missing children, has made him an invaluable resource to the Department in its efforts to find and protect missing wards.

A child welfare reform task force established by Governor Rod Blagojevich during his first month in office found that DCFS was seriously undercounting its number of missing wards. DCFS numbers in the previous year showed 800 children labeled "whereabouts unknown," but only 200 children were listed as missing.. The task force also found that too little attention was paid to locating these children at risk. Chaired by Bryan Sameuls, who would later be named the agency’s director, the task force recommended that DCFS should establish a unit with the sole responsibility of reviewing and monitoring missing children's cases. In addition, it should develop intervention services that focus on teenage girls, the most likely population to run away, and look into alternative placement options for runaways once they are located.

Aggressive actions taken in the past year have sizably reduced the daily count of missing wards -- from 409 in May 2003, to 305 children today. A 24-hour DCFS Missing Children Helpline (866/503-0184) was launched in the summer of 2003, followed by the creation of a 16 member missing child location unit, also staffed round-the-clock. A unique Missing Child Database was also developed to provide workers with updated information about missing wards, including photographs, medical information and other important details.

"This has been a year-long process of getting people engaged to use new sets of skills and resources to effectively identify and bring runaway kids back into care," said director Samuels. “reorganizing staff, changing procedures and adding resources is not enough. People need to believe in their hearts that finding runaway wards is a top priority. I believe the numbers show that the message has gotten through.”

“At the same time,” Samuels added, “we need to support the people in the field who we are depending on to find children. That’s why statewide training sessions like this are so important.”

This week’s training event is the second time DCFS and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have jointly trained workers about runaway issues. Last August, the Center and DCFS trained child welfare and juvenile justice professionals on techniques for speedier investigations of missing ward reports, child and family abductions, recovery methods, investigative resources, on-line victimization and agency planning. This week’s training will focus on awareness of the vulnerability of children who are missing, the importance immediate response to reports and efforts to locate missing children.

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

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See also

Jill Manuel
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services


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