SPRINGFIELD — A state agency that’s been a punching bag for decades, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, went before the Legislative Audit Commission to answer accusations it does a poor job of keeping track of runaway kids in state custody.

“Our audit concluded that, given the noncompliance with DCFS procedures, and a lack of reliable data to determine whether missing-child procedures are being followed, management controls need to be strengthened,” said Jim Schlouch, director of performance audits in the state auditor general’s office.

“We found that DCFS did not have annual reports for management on the number of missing wards or the location from where they went missing.”

What’s more, Schlouch says, there had not been training in this area for years.

The new director of DCFS, George Sheldon, picks up on the cue. “I stressed this with the governor,” he told the commission, “I think the first thing you’ve got to invest in is technology and training. And, generally, that’s the two things that usually get left behind. The department has about seven systems that don’t talk to each other. And that’s a problem.”

The best DCFS can determine is that for 2011 and 2012 combined, between 2,800 and 3,100 wards went missing between 26,500 and 29,200 times.

Sheldon says he requires staff to call him whenever a ward dies. He says a typical death involves an infant or toddler who, unless they drowned, suffocated while sleeping with an adult. On that note, he says he is planning a series of public service announcements warning of the dangers of co-sleeping, which he says are not publicized enough.

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