Jacksonville police see rash of children wandering streets alone | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey


Three times during the past seven days, children under the age of 5 were reported wandering the streets of Jacksonville unattended.

In all three cases, the children were picked up by the Jacksonville Police Department and returned to a parent or guardian.

While returning the children to their home is the usual procedure, said Jacksonville Police Lt. Sean Walker, the fact that three children were reported to be out on the streets alone in a relatively short time span is unusual.

In each case, a report about the incident was forwarded to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services for further investigation, Walker said.

“If they are reported to us, an investigator goes to each home to look for any signs of abuse or neglect. That is the first priority,” said Heather Tarczan, director of communications for DCFS.

“The child’s safety is paramount to us. If someone sees a need for an incident to be reported to us, we absolutely go out there,” Tarczan said.

The first Jacksonville incident was reported at 8:58 p.m. Wednesday when a caller said a child about 4-years-old was running in the middle of the street near Westgate and Lafayette avenues. At 4:27 p.m. Friday, a caller said her neighbor’s 5-year-old was walking alone on Huber Street. A lone child, wearing only a diaper, was reported near South Clay Avenue and Kentucky Street at 12:11 p.m. Saturday.

“I would say three cases in one week is a little out of the ordinary. It would be more of an issue if it kept happening with the same individual,” Walker said.

“We handle them on a case-by-case basis. Generally, if it is a young child who should have some level of supervision, DCFS is notified 99% of the time,” Walker said.

“If we hear something back (from DCFS) it is because there is an enforcement action that needs to be taken and maybe an arrest needs to be made. But that is rare. Usually, we don’t hear back from DCFS, and we consider the matter closed,” Walker said.

“We work hand-in-hand with law enforcement. If they call us, or if someone calls us, we go out to the home to specifically see what is taking place,” Tarczan said.

“Any time an investigator goes out, they are looking for signs of abuse or neglect. Investigators are trained to look at things like bruising patterns and household conditions to ensure the general welfare of the children is being upheld,” Tarczan said.

“If there is an investigation and it seems to be something greater so that we need to have law enforcement involved, we work in partnership with them. If it as a one-off instance, there might not be a conversation with local authorities,” Tarczan said.

She said sometimes things happen that look unusual but aren’t. Something as innocent as a child chasing a butterfly and leaving a yard while an adult’s attention is diverted can be a reason to spark an investigation.

“I wouldn’t say it is a common, but it does happen. Children are creative and are probably smarter than we give them credit for in figuring things out. It’s not hard to envision doors with electronically controlled locks getting unlocked because kids are either savvy with technology or unafraid to push buttons,” Tarczan said.

Walker agreed with Tarczan’s assessment based on an anecdote from his experience.

“Not long ago, I found a two-year-old who was outside while his mom was asleep. We contacted DCFS. As far as a crime being committed, you have to prove intent, and that the mother intended to commit the crime of neglect,” Walker said.

“In that case, the child learned how to unlock the door. We can say that was not intentional by the mom, who dozed off thinking the doors were secure. I don’t think a criminal charge would be appropriate in that case,” Walker said.

“DCFS is not a law enforcement system. We are there to investigate and work with law enforcement as needed. But our investigators are trained to look for different signs coming from parents and children,” Tarczan said.

If an incident is less serious, an investigator might suggest classes or additional services that are available to take remedial action.

“It’s case by case. There is no system in place where if you are found doing this, then this will happen. But we do have a number of resources available for families,” Tarczan said.

While the department removes about 4% of reported child victims from their home to ensure their short-term safety, research shows there are serious consequences when children are not reunified with their parents as quickly as possible.

Someone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected can call the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-2873. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911.

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