Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Florida

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.0141; 937.021(4); Admin. Code § 65C-30.019

Whenever the whereabouts of a child involved with the Department of Children and Families become unknown, the department, the community-based care provider, or the sheriff€™s office providing investigative services for the department shall make reasonable efforts, as defined by rule, to locate the child. If, pursuant to criteria established by rule, the child is determined to be missing, the department, the community-based care provider, or the sheriff€™s office shall file a report that the child is missing in accordance with § 937.021.

Upon the filing of a police report that a child is missing by the parent or guardian, the department, a community-based care provider, or a sheriff's office providing investigative services for the department, the law enforcement agency receiving the report shall immediately inform all on-duty law enforcement officers of the missing child report, communicate the report to every other law enforcement agency having jurisdiction in the county, and, within 2 hours after receipt of the report, transmit the report for inclusion within the Florida Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center databases. A law enforcement agency may not require a reporter to present an order that a child be taken into custody or any other such order before accepting a report that a child is missing.

In regulation: The child's caregiver, legal guardian, or child welfare professional shall immediately report a child as missing to law enforcement when any of the following apply:

  • The child is under age 13.
  • The child has a physical or mental incapacity or a developmental or behavioral challenge that renders the situation more dangerous than it would be for a child with more maturity or resources.
  • The child is with others who may endanger his or her safety.
  • The child is known or believed to be in a dangerous or life-threatening situation.
  • The child is missing under circumstances inconsistent with established behaviors.

A missing child report shall be obtained by the caregiver, legal guardian, or child welfare professional from law enforcement at the time of notification. The child welfare professional shall enter the electronic missing child report in the Florida Safe Families Network (FSFN) within 24 hours of learning the child is missing. The department shall review the missing child report to ensure that it meets reporting criteria for case opening with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement/Missing and Endangered Person Information Clearinghouse and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-30.019

When none of the criteria for an immediate report to law enforcement apply, the child's caregiver, legal guardian, or child welfare professional may take up to 4 hours from the time the child is first discovered missing to actively search for and attempt to locate the child prior to contacting local law enforcement. Active search efforts include the following:

  • Searching the child's belongings
  • Calling/texting the child's cell phone
  • Checking the child's computer, social media accounts, or other online accounts
  • Contacting the child's friends, relatives, or known associates
  • Searching areas that the child is known to frequent
  • Contacting the child's school
  • Contacting the child's employer

After notifying law enforcement, the caregiver or legal guardian shall immediately notify the child welfare professional that the child's whereabouts are unknown. If the child welfare professional learns that the child's caregiver or legal guardian has not reported the child as missing to local law enforcement within the timeframes set forth in of this rule, the child welfare professional immediately shall report the child as missing to local law enforcement.

When the whereabouts of a child in the custody of the department are unknown, the child welfare professional shall notify the child's caregivers or legal custodians, guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem, if appointed, and Children's Legal Services within 4 hours. Children's Legal Services or the contracted legal provider must file notice with the court within 1 business day after being notified that a child is missing. Notice to the court shall be documented in FSFN within 2 business days.

Child welfare professionals shall be responsible for conducting both field-based and desk activities to locate the child, including the following:

  • Onsite visits to locations where the child may be found
  • Onsite collateral source contact interviews (e.g., interviews of teachers, employers, relatives)
  • Use of electronic databases and information systems (e.g., parent locator services)
  • Checking mobile apps that are popular among youth

For children reported missing while the family is receiving case management services, the case manager or designee shall make efforts to locate the child at a minimum of once a week for the first 3 months the child is missing and at a minimum of once a month thereafter.

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

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-30.019

Upon learning that the missing child has been located, the child welfare professional shall interview the child within 24 hours to determine the primary factors that contributed to the child running away (if the child ran away).

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-30.019

Upon learning that a child missing while a family is receiving case management services has been located, the child welfare professional identified by the community-based care lead agency shall interview the child within 24 hours to determine the child's need for additional services and/or change in placement.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Admin. Code § 65C-30.019

Upon learning that the missing child has been located, the child welfare professional shall interview the child within 24 hours to inquire into the child's experience while absent from care, including identifying if the child has a history of running away, sexual abuse, prostitution, or a current arrest on a charge of prostitution, or the child discloses being trafficked or reporting sexual exploitation. If any one of these indicators are present, the child welfare professional shall screen the child to determine if the child is a possible victim of trafficking.

When the child is located, the child welfare professional shall immediately notify the following individuals and agencies:

  • The child's caregiver or legal guardian
  • Law enforcement
  • The guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem, if appointed
  • Children's Legal Services or the contracted legal provider

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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