Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - District of Columbia

Date: May 2020

Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: D.C. Code § 4-1323.01; CFSA Missing Children Policy

The Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) shall file a missing person report with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) for any child in the custody of CFSA immediately after discovering that the child is missing from the child's home or out-of-home placement.

The MPD immediately shall report a missing child to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, if either of the following applies:

  • The child has been deemed critical missing by the MPD, as defined by MPD General Order 304-03.
  • The child has been missing for more than 30 days from the date the agency filed a missing person report with MPD.

For the purposes of this section, the term 'child' means a person who has not reached age 18.

In policy: Immediate notification to the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction in which the child is placed and the CFSA Absconder Unit is mandatory and critical. The Absconder Unit shall support the social workers' efforts to locate and return the child. For purposes of this policy, the term 'child' includes both infants and youth, as applicable.

When a child is believed to be missing or absconded, to have been abducted, or to have run away, the resource provider or caregiver shall take these steps in the following order:


  • Make reasonable efforts to locate the missing child (e.g., contact neighbors, the school, and the missing child's friends)
  • If a child is deemed to be missing, file a police report with the local law enforcement agency (in the jurisdiction where the home or facility is located or where the youth was last seen) within 1 hour from the time the child is missing
  • Ensure receipt of the police report number
  • Immediately report the missing child to the CFSA hotline and the assigned social worker and provide both the hotline and the social worker with the police report number
  • If the child returns home, immediately notify the local law enforcement agency, CFSA's hotline, the assigned social worker, and other relevant parties who may have been notified that the child was missing

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: CFSA Missing Children Policy

When a social worker learns that a child is missing, the social worker shall immediately complete the following steps:

  • Contact the resource provider or caregiver to confirm the report and to determine whether the child has returned
  • If the child has not returned, verify that the resource provider or caregiver has filed a police report with the local law enforcement agency
  • If the police report was not made, contact the law enforcement agency in the missing child's jurisdiction to make the report and ensure receipt of a police report number
  • Immediately notify the following individuals that the child is missing:
    • The CFSA hotline
    • The supervisory social worker
    • The missing child's parents or legal guardians and significant relatives
    • The child's family court judge
    • The assistant attorney general (AAG) and guardian ad litem (GAL)
    • Other appropriate members of the child's case-planning team

The social worker shall use reasonable efforts to try and locate the missing/absconded child within 24 hours from receipt of notice that the child is missing. These efforts may include, but are not limited to, contacting the following entities or individuals:

  • The local law enforcement agency (to verify that the child is not in their custody)
  • Local emergency shelters, local hospitals, and homeless youth programs
  • Most recent resource provider and any other resource providers with whom the child is known to have now or has had a close or long-term relationship
  • Relatives, including the child's parents and siblings
  • Neighbors and landlord of the child's last known address
  • Teachers, counselors, and other personnel from the school that the child last attended or other schools the child attended, if there is knowledge that the child had a close relationship with persons at that school
  • Probation or parole officer, if applicable
  • Juvenile and adult detention centers, if applicable

Social workers shall follow up on all leads by telephone and/or home visits as new information is received regarding the location of the child. If the missing/absconded child is in the legal custody of CFSA and efforts to locate him or her are unsuccessful, the social worker shall immediately request assistance from the CFSA Absconder Unit to locate the missing/absconded child.

If the missing/absconded child is identified as being at high-risk, the social worker shall initiate a child locator staffing. The social worker shall consult with the supervisory social worker to determine the timeframe to conduct the staffing, which should take place as soon as possible, but no later than 7 days. The child locator staffing shall include the following individuals:

  • The child's family, if deemed clinically appropriate by the social worker
  • The ongoing social worker or supervisory social worker
  • Child locator and CFSA Absconder Unit staff
  • The child or youth's resource provider
  • The assigned AAG and the GAL
  • Placement Services Administration
  • Other relevant parties in the case

The child locator staffing shall discuss why the child or youth has been identified as being at high-risk. A written plan shall be developed to locate the child or youth. Responsibility for each action step in the plan will be designated during the meeting. The child locator staffing shall determine the need for the social worker to contact NCMEC. A plan that is developed at the child locator staffing shall supersede any other plan.

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

Citation: CFSA Missing Children Policy

Once a child is located, it is imperative that the social worker engage the child to determine why the child was missing or absconded and to prevent further disruptions.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: CFSA Missing Children Policy

Once a child is located, the social worker shall determine the most appropriate placement for the child based on his or her safety and well-being and the circumstances that led to the child being missing or absconding.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: CFSA Missing Children Policy

Once a child is located, the social worker shall complete the following tasks upon the child's return:

  • Immediately asses the child's safety
  • Notify the following parties of the child's return:
    • Court absconder specialist
    • Local law enforcement agency
    • The child's parents, resource provider, and other relatives, as appropriate
    • The family court, AAG, and GAL
    • Other relevant parties who may have been notified that the child was missing
  • Complete and submit the Request for the Withdrawal of Custody Order form and send it to the CFSA Absconder Unit for review

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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