Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Connecticut

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., Prac. Guide # 21-15PG

From the Practice Guide: Children who have run away from placement shall be reported to the Careline and to law enforcement.

When a child has run away from a congregate care setting, Department of Children and Families (DCF) foster home, or therapeutic foster home, contacting the police immediately to file a missing person report may not always be an appropriate course of action. Factors to be considered include the child's danger to self, others, or the community; medical and physical health; chronological age; developmental age; behavioral and mental health status, including prior trauma history and especially sexual abuse or exploitation; social and emotional functioning; and the geographical location from which the child ran.

Law enforcement must be contacted immediately to file a missing person report for entry into the National Crime Information Center database when the facility staff or foster parent(s) believe that the child is a danger to self, others, or the community, regardless of age; the child has a prior history of sexual exploitation; or the child is under age 13.

In these cases, the facility staff or foster parents shall immediately contact the police and notify, by telephone, the DCF area office, during business hours, or the Careline, after hours and on holidays. Therapeutic foster parents also must contact the treatment foster care (TFC) agency that provides their support to notify it of the incident.

If the child does not meet the criteria for immediate police notification, facility staff, foster parents, or TFC agency staff should contact the area office during business hours or the Careline after hours and on holidays. The area office or Careline, together with the foster parent(s) and provider staff, shall assess the nature of the absence to determine whether police notification and intervention is necessary.

Factors to be considered during the joint assessment include the child's danger to self, others, or the community; medical and physical health; chronological age; developmental age and stage; behavioral and mental health status, including prior trauma history and especially sexual abuse or exploitation; and social and emotional functioning. If the outcome of the assessment is that law enforcement notification and intervention are necessary, DCF shall direct facility staff, foster parent(s), or TFC agency staff to contact law enforcement and report the child as missing.

Based on the youth's age, mental health issues, level of functioning, extenuating circumstances (such as recent break ups, family illness or death, change in legal or placement status, etc.), and runaway history, the police should be notified based on the timeframes given below.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., Prac. Guide # 21-15PG

If the outcome of the joint assessment does not necessitate immediate law enforcement notification or intervention, the area office or Careline staff will work with the facility staff, foster parents, and TFC agency staff to develop a plan to search for the child to ascertain his or her whereabouts.

When the child's whereabouts are unknown, DCF, facility staff, foster parents, and TFC agency staff will continue searching and a formal reassessment will be made within 3 hours or prior to the area office closing or the next Careline shift change during the child's absence.

If the reassessment determines that police intervention is still not needed, DCF, facility staff, foster parents, and TFC agency staff will update the plan to continue the search for the child, including additional action steps mutually agreed upon by DCF, facility staff, foster parents, and TFC agency staff, with another formal reassessment scheduled within 3 hours or prior to the area office closing or the next Careline shift change during the child's continued absence.

The search and reassessment process should not exceed 6 hours before making the determination to contact the law enforcement and report the child as missing.

Upon notification of a runaway from either a foster parent placement or a congregate care setting, a social worker will be assigned to attempt to locate any child under age 15, all children who present as a danger to themselves or others, children with a history of poor decision-making that puts them in precarious situations, and children who do not have a history of frequent absences without leave (AWOLs).

A social worker shall be assigned to respond to the placement and have a discussion with the foster parent or placement staff to determine the frequency of child's AWOLs, where he or she has gone or been found in the past, whether police have been involved in the past, and who the child's contacts are. Based on the information obtained, the social worker, accompanied by police, if appropriate, may make attempts to locate the child at the addresses provided. The legal guardian and other family connections also shall be contacted in an attempt to locate the child.

When the area office receives a notification between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, the initial call will usually come from the school or other program that the youth attends during the day. The first step is to ensure that the absence is confirmed, not simply that the youth was absent from a class or marked absent but is actually elsewhere in the building or on the grounds. The next step is to contact the foster parent or facility staff to see if they are aware of the youth's whereabouts. If the youth has a cell phone, he or she needs to be called. The next step is to contact any transportation provider, to see what information they can provide. If the youth is involved with juvenile parole or probation, the juvenile justice social worker or probation officer needs to be contacted.

After all these sources have been checked and rechecked, other possibilities, such as birth family, other relatives, and friends need to be explored. Boyfriends or girlfriends need to be explored, if their contact information is known. If staff can access to the youth's social media accounts, those need to be explored as well.

All the above steps need to be repeated regularly and repeatedly throughout the day.

Determining the Factors That Led to a Child's Absence From Care

This issue is not addressed in the statutes and regulations reviewed.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., Prac. Guide # 21-15PG

When there is knowledge of the child's whereabouts, area office staff during business hours or Careline staff after hours and during holidays will work with facility staff, foster parents, and TFC agency staff to ensure the child's immediate return. A child's refusal to return immediately should not, by itself, be a reason for police intervention. Area office or Careline staff must work with the child to determine how to maintain the current placement or to determine whether another placement is needed. The TFC agency shall also work with the child and DCF to assist with maintaining the current placement or determining and facilitating an appropriate alternative placement.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: DCF Pol. Man., Prac. Guide # 21-15PG

When a child returns of his or her own accord or is returned to the placement setting by anyone, the facility staff, foster parent(s), or TFC agency staff will immediately notify area office staff during business hours or the Careline after hours and holidays in order to assess the child's needs and discuss planning. The caregiver or agency shall work with DCF to assess, plan for, and support the needs of the child. As appropriate, emergency mobile psychiatric services should be accessed to assist DCF foster homes, therapeutic foster homes, and community-based group homes with assessing the child's status.

If it is known or suspected that the child may have experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse or exploitation, community violence, or another type of traumatic event during the runaway episode, DCF staff shall determine whether it is appropriate to administer the DCF-approved trauma screening tool to identify any new trauma exposure and the child's traumatic stress symptoms. The assessment shall include identification of any trauma-related needs of the child and whether the child feels safe now (upon return), both physically and psychologically, in the current placement.

The planning phase shall include developing or updating a safety plan for the child, if appropriate. The purpose of the safety plan is to ensure that the child has positive strategies and coping skills that, instead of running away, can be used during times of distress. The facility staff, foster parent(s), or TFC agency staff; the child; and the DCF social worker will participate in planning and understand and support the plan.

The need for general mental health assessment, trauma-specific assessment, or general mental health/trauma-specific treatment should be routinely assessed within a reasonable time following the child's return.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

This issue is not addressed in the statutes and regulations reviewed.