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Fla. can't find 1,000 kids in state custody

Rilya was an infant when she was removed from her crack-addicted mother.
Rilya was an infant when she was removed from her crack-addicted mother.  

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Florida's child welfare agency said Monday it was unable to account for about 1,000 children in its system, including about 400 believed to have run away and more than 100 others missing because a non-custodial parent or relative took them.

"You just hope and pray that nothing happens, and you do your darnedest to find them," said Larry Pintacuda, the assistant secretary of operations for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

"As soon as any kid we think is missing, we're notifying law enforcement."

The agency made the announcement after caseworkers tried to visit all 46,403 children under the agency's jurisdiction last month.

Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the agency to see all the children after the department in April revealed that 5-year-old Rilya Wilson had not been accounted for in 15 months.

But the department's review seemed to raise more questions than answers.

The agency could not answer whether the review turned up any new cases of missing children or if any children were located in areas different from where they were supposed to be.

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    In addition, the report's numbers of missing children differ from what the Department of Law Enforcement said the agency had given them. The law enforcement agency said the DCF had reported 155 missing to them through May.

    In a conference call with reporters, Pintacuda said 972 children were unaccounted for. He said:

  • 401 were classified as runaways.
  • 135 were listed as absconded (taken by a non-custodial parent or relative).
  • 421 were listed as "out of state" (reported to be in placements out of state but caseworkers in those states did not visit them).
  • 10 were missing because the family had moved or was on vacation.
  • Caseworkers could not visit four other children because of court orders preventing them from doing so.

    Pintacuda said the agency hopes to interview 265 more children by the end of the week, saying caseworkers ran out of time to interview them last month.

    Asked if the agency definitely knows where those children are, Pintacuda said, "Until you see them, we don' know, but we think we know where they are.

    Pintacuda defended the agency's work, saying the goal to interview all the children in one month was extremely ambitious.

    He said "no state in this country" interviewed as many children as the caseworkers in Florida did last month. He said the number of runaways was not unusual, because "kids come and they go."

    Pintacuda said the agency had interviewed about 98 percent of the children -- while state and federal law requires 90 percent.

    "I don't know if we'll ever see 100 percent," he said. "Our people did a heck of a job."

    But when a reporter said the agency still fell short of the governor's order, Pintacuda responded, "You're right."

    The governor's office had no immediate comment on the report.


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