Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Maine

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: OFCS Pol. Man. § V.B.

In policy: When a youth in the care and custody of the State is reported missing, the caseworker must complete the following actions within the first 24 hours:

  • Communicate with the law enforcement entity that covers the area the child resides in and file a missing person's report
  • Confirm with law enforcement that they have or will place the information into the National Crime Information Center database
  • If there is reason to believe that the youth possibly was abducted, alert law enforcement of that possibility right away and give as much detail as possible about who was last with the child, the relationship between the two, etc.

The caseworker who filed the missing person's report is responsible for immediately documenting what the plan will be to respond to law enforcement's notification that the child has been found and being held for pick up. Those plans are to be recorded both in the narrative log and as 'special instructions.'

If the youth is missing for 24 hours, the caseworker must report to the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: OFCS Pol. Man. § V.B.

Office of Child and Family Services (OFCS) staff have a responsibility to respond immediately when youth in the care and custody of the State have run away or are missing.

OCFS believes youth should have a safe place to sleep every night and should have responsible adults to care for them. This policy is designed to delineate tasks that OCFS staff must do when youth, who are in the care and custody of the State, become missing and/or have run away from an approved placement.

When a youth in the care and custody of the State is reported missing, the caseworker must complete the following actions within the first 24 hours:

  • Conduct a review of case records in an effort to determine where the child may have gone and/or who may have been involved in the child's disappearance or unauthorized absence
  • Contact other individuals who may have had previous contact with the missing child, including school personnel, physical and mental health providers, law enforcement personnel, friends, neighbors, relatives, family members, other children who may have shared a placement with the child, etc.
  • Contact other community partners to inform them that the child may be missing and request they keep the office informed if they come in contact with the child or learn about his/her whereabouts
  • Connect with the local homeless youth outreach agencies, as well as emergency shelters
  • Notify the assigned guardian ad litem (GAL)
  • Review the Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation Policy (HTCSEC) (IV. D-2B) and assess the level of risk the youth is at utilizing the screening tool and follow next steps

The caseworker's ongoing responsibilities while youth is missing include the following:

  • Maintain ongoing contact with the birth family (when appropriate), as well as the child's current placement provider to share information and to obtain new or additional information regarding the child
  • Keep the GAL informed of the attempts to locate the youth weekly or when there is a change
  • Ensure ongoing contact and collaboration with NCMEC and law enforcement

When a youth in the care and custody of the State has run away from an approved placement, caseworker responsibilities include the following:

  • Plan with the youth around when, where, and how to contact them, using all relevant communication technology available, and make a plan for the next meeting with them
  • Review the HTCSEC Policy (IV. D-2B) and screening tool and follow next steps based on screening tool risk factor category

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

Citation: OFCS Pol. Man. § V.B.

When a youth in the care and custody of the State has run away from an approved placement, the caseworker must gather information around the circumstances of the youth's absence from their approved placement.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: OFCS Pol. Man. § V.B.

When a youth in the care and custody of the State has run away from an approved placement, the caseworker must review all the youth's options given the situation. If the youth does not agree to return to their previous placement, the caseworker must plan with them to determine where they will be staying and follow next steps in the Selection of Substitute Care Placement Policy (V. D) for next steps with regard to placement.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: OFCS Pol. Man. § V.B.

When a missing youth in the care and custody of the State is located, the caseworker's responsibilities include the following:

  • Pick the youth up as soon as possible from law enforcement and assess the need for safety, placement, and care
  • Contact the law enforcement entity where the youth was reported missing to notify them that the youth has been located and that the missing person's report should be cancelled
  • Contact any other individuals or organizations who have been contacted about the youth's status, including, but not limited to, the GAL, NCMEC, other law enforcement agencies, and community partners
  • As soon as possible and no later than 24 hours after the child has been located, utilize the screening tool found in the HTCSEC Policy (IV. D-2B) and follow next steps based on the results of the screening
  • Gather information around the circumstances of the youth's absence from their approved placement

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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