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Cook County specialized unit searches for missing children who are supposed to be in custody of DCFS

Cook County specialized unit has found over 1000 missing children

Everyday officers with the Sheriff’s Department’s Child Rescue Unit crisscrosses Cook County in search of missing kids, who are supposed to be in custody of the Department of Child and Family Services, but are not, for a number of reasons.

Every year, children go missing in the United States.

Wednesday is National Missing Children’s Day.

President Reagan started it in 1983 as a way to honor the heroic efforts of agencies, organizations and individuals working to protect children.

Officers with the Sheriff Department’s Child Rescue Unit crisscrosses Cook County in search of missing kids, who are supposed to be in custody of the Department of Child and Family Services, but are not, for a number of reasons.

The sheriff’s office says on any given day, there are roughly 120 children they could be looking for, and they find on average four to 10 missing kids every week.

“We don’t kick in no doors, it’s just interaction, one on one,” said Commander Dion Trotter with the Child Rescue Unit.

This specialized unit was the brainchild of Sheriff Tom Dart 10 years ago.

“This group of kids. I just can’t understand how this is not the highest priority for people because they’re the most vulnerable children who’ve done nothing wrong,” said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

When a kid goes missing, a judge issues a child protection warrant and the officers search for kids of all ages.

Some who ran away on their own and others who were taken by the very person DCFS took them from in the first place.

Commander Trotter says kids go on the run for different reasons, looking for a familiar neighborhood or relative.

The race is on in every case to try to get these kids before traffickers do.

“We’re a place where a young person can reach out any time of any day and have a live voice help them,” said Susan Frankel, the CEO of the National Runaway Safeline, which is a Chicago-based organization that provides 24/ 7 services to young people in crisis — helping them safely get back home or find another alternative.

They answer 125,000 calls a year and their website sees half a million young people looking for information.

“We’re also seeing a really significant rise in under twelve. While we serve twelve, we are starting to get contacts from eight, nine, ten, eleven year old’s,” said Frankel.

Dart’s unit has found more than one thousand kids and for many years working hand in hand with DCFS, who also pays for the salaries of four officers on the unit.

“For a period of time we had three DCFS caseworkers working with us. Then it was down to one, and now we’re down to zero,” said Sheriff Dart.

Trotter says it can be a challenge to get caseworkers on the phone.


“That is a big barrier. Anytime you’re searching you’re working hard on a case, and you finally find a kid to call to worker, and it’s a voicemail, call a supervisor the worker is well wait we don’t know it….I hate to say it but we’ve become used to it,” said Trotter.

He says DCFS used to give them a designated drop-off location, a sort of triage center for the kids they rescued.

It was located at 50th and Michigan, and it closed two years ago. These officers are often left to babysit the rescued kids or hand them off to the Special Victims Unit.

“I’m not certain as to why that’s an issue because as I indicated our facility at 1911 is open 24/7,” said Jacquelyn Dortch the DCFS Deputy Director for Child Services. “Our child intake and recovery unit has a hotline that’s open 24/7. That’s available to receive those calls and support the sheriff department and help determine where to take the child.”

DSCFS is referring to their facility at 1911 South Indiana in Chicago. They also told us a new caseworker will start work with the Child Rescue Unit on June 1.

The sheriff’s department released this statement:

“Since the closure of the child reception center at 5001 S. Michigan, the sheriff’s office has never been informed that CRU staff are to bring children to DCFS’s office at 1911 S. Indiana. Instead, they were given the number of a DCFS employee to contact when they have located a child pursuant to a child protection warrant. Alternatively, CRU staff contact the number of the caseworker listed in the child protection warrant.”

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