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Report: State of Florida can't find 103 children missing from care of child-family department

BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, December 17, 2002

(12-17) 11:53 PST TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --

Law enforcement officials still cannot find more than 100 of 393 children reported missing from Department of Children & Families care, a report released Tuesday said.

Out the 103 youngsters listed on the report, 88 are being sought by law enforcement as missing children. Thirteen have turned 18 and are not being sought by law enforcement, the report said. Another turned 18 but is being sought as a missing adult and another, 17-year-old Marissa Karp, was found shot to death in August.

Gov. Jeb Bush started Operation Safekids in August, ordering DCF and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to find the children missing from state care, most of whom are believe to be runaways or taken by a noncustodial relative.

Bush called the operation a success in a statement released Tuesday, saying that in addition to locating most of the missing children it improved communication between DCF and law enforcement agencies.

Operation Safekids "has helped to establish a system that will better protect the children in our state," Bush said.

As part of the process, the state formed seven regional task forces to search for the children and make recommendations on how to better ensure children's safety.

Bush's order resulted from DCF scrutiny in the wake of the Rilya Wilson case. The 5-year-old Miami girl was missing for 15 months before department officials in April realized she was gone. She is still unaccounted-for and is one of the children on the list.

The department was further embarrassed in August when the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found nine missing children by checking public records and other routing footwork.

DCF Secretary Kathleen Kearney resigned in August and was replaced by Jerry Regier. Regier and FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore will join Bush on Tuesday to give the governor details of the report's findings.

The body of Karp, described as a chronic runaway with drug and mental problems, was found Aug. 19 in a canal in Collier County. Officials said Karp had been under DCF's care since October 2001, when she was placed in a juvenile intervention program because of delinquency problems.

Also Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Bob Holden ordered a shakeup in his state's Department of Social Services and accepted the resignation of a top official in response to the death of Dominic James, a 2-year-old foster child, in August. The boy's foster father, John Dilley, 34, has pleaded innocent to murder and other charges.

Holden's office said he had requested the resignation of Robin Gierer, associate director of child welfare. Another department official also resigned recently.

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