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Newspaper finds 9 kids reported missing in Florida

| Monday, Aug. 12, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Using law enforcement profiles, public records and interviews with relatives, a newspaper found nine children that had been declared missing by Florida's embattled child welfare agency.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel examined 24 cases involving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade county children primarily under age 4 whose profiles were available through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Although the paper did not have access to detailed Department of Children & Families files, it found more than one-third of the children in four weeks — two in less than three hours, it reported Sunday.

The state's child welfare agency has been under intense scrutiny since officials acknowledged in April that it had lost track of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, who had been missing since January 2001. No caseworker checked on her for 15 months. She is still missing.

As of last month, DCF could not account for 532 children it said had run away from foster homes or had been abducted by parents against court orders.

The Sun-Sentinel said it was possible — and in a few cases easy — to locate some of the youngsters, including:

  • Two sisters missing since 1997 have been living in Wisconsin with their mother, whose phone number is listed in directory assistance.

    r Four Miami brothers listed as missing since January have been routinely seen in their neighborhood — a mile from DCF offices.

    r A boy reporting missing in February was found with his mother in Miami.

    r A boy who the DCF has been unable to find for almost eight years was located in the Dominican Republic with calls to two relatives and a friend.

    DCF administrators said they do look for missing children.

    "I believe we treat (the cases) seriously enough, but it's apparent there are efforts that we haven't made or could be making," said Mary Allegretti, DCF deputy district administrator in Broward.

    The agency's limited resources make searching for children difficult, said Jack Moss, DCF district administrator in Broward.

    DCF officials in Tallahassee and Miami did not return phone calls seeking comment.

    An agency statement given to the Sun-Sentinel on Friday said it already knew the locations of four of the children tracked by the newspaper.

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