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Child welfare officials can account for children

December 17, 2002

Bismarck, N.D. - The North Dakota Department of Human Services, in partnership with county social service offices, ran a test to assure that all children in state or county care could be located. Officials were able to verify the location of all 1,020 children in their custody.

"We wanted to check our system at a point in time to confirm that we could account for all of the children in state or county care. In North Dakota, child welfare workers do a good job of tracking and regularly checking on children and teenagers who are in care. In addition, permanency planning meetings, which involve case workers, parents and others involved with a child's situation are held quarterly, which is more frequent than the national standard," said Carol K. Olson, Executive Director of the Department of Human Services.

The department ran the check October 29, 2002, and by the morning of November 1, 2002 had accounted for all of the children in its jurisdiction. State staff verified child placements in treatment facilities and group homes. The Division of Juvenile Services verified placements of children in their care, and regional human service center staff and county social services staff verified the placements of children in family foster care or relative care.

Olson said the spot check was a useful exercise. Child advocates across the country have been clamoring for greater accountability in child welfare since the case of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson first came to light in Florida. The girl was missing from a Florida foster care home for over a year before officials in that state noticed. Typically when children are reported missing from state child welfare systems, it usually involves teenagers who have run away or children removed from placement by non-custodial parents or other relatives.

Paul Ronningen, Director of the department's Children and Family Services Division said North Dakota's child welfare system has several strengths. "Our goals are to provide children with safety and permanency. We are fortunate to have a small caseload. At any given time, there are about 1,000 children in foster care in North Dakota. The organizations and individuals involved in child welfare know each other; so there is better coordination. And child welfare workers are also very conscientious and take their responsibilities seriously," he said.

North Dakota's foster care caseload has remained steady over the past four years. Between July 2001 and June 2002, 1,762 children and teenagers were in state or county care. During that same period, North Dakota's foster care system expenditures totaled $16.3 million.


Heather Steffl, Public Information Specialist (701) 328-4933


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