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Cunningham legislation to protect DCFS wards signed into law

cunningham dcfs wardsSPRINGFIELD - Wards of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services who run away or go missing from the system will now have additional protections to help find them and keep them out of the hands of predators. Two pieces of legislation, sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham, were signed into law to help create a system to locate missing wards that are reported as well as enhancing penalties for criminals who exploit those missing wards.

“The protection of our children, regardless of circumstance, is a priority. With the passage and signing of these important pieces of legislation, our most vulnerable children will have better protection and, hopefully, a better life,” said Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat.

Senate Bill 1775, also known as the Safeguard our Children Act, spells out what is required from DCFS once a youth in their custody is reported missing. The legislation states that DCFS must report the missing youth to local law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Illinois State Police must also develop a network to help with locating missing DCFS wards.

From 2011 to 2013, residential DCFS facilities reported 29,425 incidents of missing wards, averaging 27 runaway reports per day. Many residential facilities do not report the runaways to local law enforcement.

“There have been numerous cases of DCFS wards going missing, where, unfortunately, law enforcement was not made aware of the missing child,” Cunningham said. “This new law will help us to find runaway wards as quickly as possible, helping protect them from possible exploitation.”

Also signed into law was Senate Bill 201, which allows sentencing courts to consider a defendant’s knowledge of a prostitution victim’s DCFS status when sentencing. Many wards of the state are extremely susceptible and are in need of extra judicial protections. The legislation specifically states that judges may consider the fact that a criminal knew their victim to be a ward of DCFS and consider that knowledge as an aggravating factor when imposing sentences.

"A series of recent articles reported that human traffickers often specifically target and recruit wards of the state who reside in group homes. Predators see them as especially vulnerable and susceptible to being lured into a life of prostitution," Cunningham said. "The new law would enable judges to enhance the sentences imposed on pimps and traffickers in those cases."

Cunningham has worked closely with Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over the years to help craft good public policy in the criminal justice and corrections field. These two new laws are a direct result of that good working relationship.

“I’m proud to have worked with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office on this. We will continue to work together to protect our most vulnerable children and make their protection a priority,” Cunningham said.

Senator Bill Cunningham

 Cunningham2014

18th Legislative District

Years served: 2013 - Present

Committee assignments: Agriculture; Appropriations II; Gaming; Higher Education (Vice Chairperson); Labor; Telecommunications and Information Technology (Chairperson); Transportation.

Biography: Served in the House from 2011-13; full-time state legislator and lifelong resident of the southwest Chicago area; born July 21, 1967; graduate of Saint Barnabas Grammar School (1981), Mount Carmel High School (1985) and the University of Illinois Chicago (1990); former advisor to Cook CountySheriff Mike Sheahan and former chief of staff to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart; youth soccer coach; parent representative on the Sutherland Local School Council; lives in Beverly with wife, Juliana, and two daughters, Madeline and Olivia.