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Friday, April 4, 2014 A Sheriff’s Police unit dedicated to rescuing runaway or missing children has recovered more than 300 at-risk minors, almost all of whom are DCFS wards, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.

Sheriff Dart launched the Cook County Sheriff’s Child Protection Response Unit in October 2012 as a result of the inability of local authorities charged with maintaining the safety of wards of the state to do the job. In the ensuing 15 months, the unit has recovered 300 runaway juveniles, most of whom fled unsecured group homes. The 300th was rescued on Wednesday, April 2.

While the Child Protection Response Unit operates throughout all of Cook County, the majority of its work has taken place within Chicago.

The demographics of the rescued minors are as follows:

Lengths of investigations vary based on the age of the missing children. Missing toddlers – typically taken by the biological parent who lost custody – are rescued within days. Adolescents are typically rescued within two weeks. Searches for missing teenagers over the age of 15 can last between one to six months.

The Child Protection Response Unit’s work takes on added importance as a result of the inherent vulnerability of runaway juveniles. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, one-third of at-risk runaways are approached by pimps or exploiters within 48 hours of landing on the streets.

Child welfare has long been a signature issue of Sheriff Dart, dating back to his tenure in the Illinois State Assembly. As a State Representative, he chaired a House task force on protecting the rights of abused and neglected children. He served as chief sponsor of 12 child welfare bills, working to establish the concept that Illinois maintains a special obligation for finding runaway wards, given that the State is responsible for their parenting functions. In 1995, when it was revealed that DCFS lost track of over 2,000 missing wards of the state, then-State Rep. Dart introduced legislation to increase the agency’s accountability and efficiency, ushering in new laws mandating a DCFS audit and the appointment of an inspector general.

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