Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Iowa

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

From the manual:The Department of Human Services shall report immediately (no later than 24 hours) any missing or abducted child or youth in foster care to law enforcement for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and also to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or https://www.misskingkids.org.

When a child is absent from his or her placement, the department shall do the following:

  • Immediately contact law enforcement and provide the child's name, date of birth, height, weight, and any other unique identifiers, such as eyeglasses and braces
  • Inform law enforcement when the child went missing and what clothing the child was wearing
  • Report immediately, and in no case later than 24 hours, after receiving information regarding missing or abducted children or youth to law enforcement for entry into the NCIC database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and also to NCMEC

When immediate attempts to locate the child are unsuccessful, the facility must report the child to law enforcement as a missing person. The facility may make the report on behalf of a child placed in group care or shelter care. The report shall be made as follows:

  • Begin with local police and report to the sheriff or State police, as needed
  • Give to the law enforcement agencies and State Patrol Communications the following:
    • All pertinent identifying information about the child
    • The worker's name and home and work telephone numbers or the caregiver's phone number
  • Identify whether the child has been adjudicated as a child who committed a delinquent act or a child in need of assistance

If there is reason to suspect that the life or well-being of the child may be in jeopardy, the department must do the following:

  • Immediately request the local law enforcement agency to enlist the aid of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation or direct the guardian to do so
  • Be aware of what information is needed to issue an Amber Alert, if the local law enforcement determines that an Amber Alert should be issued

An Amber Alert is used only when there is an abduction and the child is in danger. An Amber Alert is not used for a runaway, unless the child is known to have been abducted and the child's life is in danger.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

The care provider shall notify the department when a child under the supervision or care of the department has an unauthorized absence from placement.

The department shall take immediate action to locate a child under the department's care or supervision when there is an unauthorized absence from placement. For the purpose of these procedures, 'unauthorized absence' means any unplanned absence due to any of the following:

  • Actions taken by the child (e.g., running away)
  • Actions of others (e.g., abduction)
  • The lack of attention or supervision by the caregiver

When a child is absent from his or her placement, the department shall do the following:

  • Instruct foster care homes, group homes, residential treatment centers, shelters, and other such placements to immediately inform the department regarding any child or youth that is absent from care
  • Obtain as much information as possible about the circumstances surrounding a child's absence
  • Make an immediate and reasonable initial effort to locate the child by, at a minimum, contacting the school, parents, relatives, friends, and other contacts or locations identified as likely places the child may be
  • Identify and contact any other individuals whom the child may have contacted for assistance while on the run and encourage them to help locate the child or return the child to foster care
  • Contact the child's parents and inform them the child is missing or abducted; gather any information from the parents that may be helpful in the search for the child
  • Search diligently and regularly for the child at places the child is frequently known to go to
  • Notify the juvenile court
  • Notify the court and the guardian ad litem, as needed, in writing within 2 working days (or within the court's preferred time limit if one has been established) when there is reason to believe that parents or others have done any of the following:
    • Failed to divulge or concealed facts known to them about the whereabouts of the child
    • Aided and abetted the unauthorized absence of the child
    • Contributed to the delinquency of the child

When a child remains on the run for a long period of time, the department shall do the following:

  • Contact law enforcement on an ongoing basis about what is being done to locate the missing juvenile
  • Contact parents and others involved regularly to see if they have more information about the child's whereabouts or activities
  • Discuss with the Iowa Department of Public Safety the need for posting photographs of missing persons to State and national internet sites

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

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

When the child is located, the caseworker shall identify the factors that contributed to the child or youth being absent from foster care and determine what the child's or youth's experiences were while absent, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible victim of sex trafficking. To the extent possible, the department shall respond to those factors in the current and subsequent placements.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

When the child is located, the caseworker shall identify, and to the extent possible, respond to the primary factors that contributed to the child or youth being absent from foster care. The responses to these factors shall be documented in case notes. The caseworker shall provide a description of how these responses will be incorporated and integrated into the current placement and how it is believed that they will positively affect the current and any subsequent placement.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

When the child is located, the caseworker shall arrange for the child's return to the placement. The caseworker may negotiate with a runaway child as to when the child is willing to return. The safety and well-being of the child should be the first consideration in the negotiation. The agreed-upon return time should always be within 48 hours of the contact.

If a parent sabotages attempts to pick up a runaway child, the caseworker must notify law enforcement.

When the child is located, the caseworker shall do the following:

  • Notify the parent or caretaker as soon as possible when the child is found, unless there a reason to believe this may further endanger the child
  • Determine what the child's or youth's experiences were while absent, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible victim of sex trafficking
  • Screen all located youth for possible sex trafficking by asking the child or youth the following:
    • How long were you on the run?
    • Where have you been staying?
    • Who has helped you and provided for you during your absence?
    • Were you threatened, abused, or assaulted during your absence?
  • Assess a victim of trafficking for trauma exposure, as follows:
    • Determine if the exploiter has access to the child
    • Determine if the child needs to be placed in a secure facility or shelter for the child's safety
  • Notify the juvenile court when appropriate
  • Determine if the location of the child can be shared
  • Immediately address any medical needs of the child
  • Develop and implement a safety plan with the child, with the plan identifying who the child can contact if the child is feeling unsafe or wants to run and safe places or locations the child can go temporarily as an alternative to running
  • Engage the child in selection of a foster care placement, if applicable
  • Offer additional services to the child, parent, or caregiver
  • Develop the permanency plan in consultation with the child, when appropriate
  • Reassess the educational needs of the child or youth, if the child or youth has missed a significant amount of school

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: DHS Employees' Man., Tit. 17, Ch. E

Payment may be made for a reserved bed while a child is on the run from a placement for 14 days. The maximum may be extended up 30 consecutive days with approval of the service area manager.

The provider shall notify the worker within 24 hours after the child runs away. When reserve bed payment requires approval of the service area manager (more than 14 consecutive days), the following must be included in the child's case file:

  • The provider's written rationale for the extended period of reserve bed days
  • The service area manager's written approval

If the child's whereabouts are unknown at the end of the allowable reserve bed period, the income maintenance worker will close the Medicaid case.