Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Maryland

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18; Pol. Directive SSA-CW # 16-04

When the local department is informed that a child in out-of-home placement is missing, has been abducted, or has not returned home at a prearranged time, the local department caseworker shall do the following:

  • Notify the local law enforcement agency and obtain a complaint number
  • Consult with the local law enforcement agency regarding the procedure to be followed to return the child and whether the local department or local law enforcement will pick up the child

In policy: When a child is identified as a run away, missing, or abducted, the caseworker shall complete the following steps:

  • Immediately have the resource provider contact the police and file a runaway/missing person report
  • If the resource provider cannot file the report, file the report and request a police complaint number
  • Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) by filing a missing child report
  • Work with NCMEC to provide any additional information required
  • Supply the police department with an up-to-date picture of the child and ensure that the police have entered the child in the National Crime Information (NCIC) database

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18; Pol. Directive SSA-CW # 16-04

When the local department is informed that an out-of-home placement child is missing, has been abducted, or has not returned home at a prearranged time, the local department caseworker shall do the following:

  • Notify the following:
    • The parents or legal guardian and their attorney, unless guardianship is granted to the local department
    • The attorney for the child
    • The local department's attorney
  • Compile information on the child's last known whereabouts and activities
  • Contact and speak with any person who may have relevant information, including the following:
    • Relatives and friends
    • School personnel
    • Persons at the child's place of employment, if applicable
    • Persons in the child's neighborhood of origin
    • Persons in the out-of-home placement neighborhood
  • Document the child's runaway or missing status with a begin and end date in the case plan
  • Document weekly search efforts to locate the child in the case record
  • Keep the parents, legal guardian, placement provider, and attorneys updated weekly on the status of the search for the child
  • Maintain weekly contact with local law enforcement regarding the search status for the child

In policy: Once initial steps have been taken for documenting a runaway or missing child, the caseworker shall do the following until the child returns or the out-of-home placement case is closed by the courts:

  • Make reasonable efforts to locate the child, including the following:
    • Having continuous conversations with family and friends
    • Checking with the child's school
    • Monitoring the child's social media regularly
    • Calling and texting the child's cellular phone and emailing
    • Visiting areas the child likely may be residing
  • Consult police/law enforcement weekly concerning progress toward locating the child
  • Maintain contact with the resource provider
  • If information is discovered that the child may be residing in another State, contact the police in the State where the child may be residing

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

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18; Pol. Directive SSA-CW # 16-04

When the child is located, the caseworker shall interview the child regarding the reasons for running away, if applicable, and record the discussion on the contact sheet.

In policy: Within 5 business days of the child's return, the caseworker will conduct a face-to-face visit with the child at the placement. During this visit, the caseworker shall have a conversation with the child concerning the reasons the child ran away, the child's experiences, and where the child resided during the runaway episode.

The caseworker shall process the reasons the child ran away and discuss accommodations that may prevent the child from running away again. The child may have multiple reasons for running away, and the caseworker shall address each of the reasons.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18

When the local department is informed that a child in out-of-home placement is missing, has been abducted, or has not returned home at a prearranged time, the local department caseworker shall develop a plan for the child's placement upon return.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18; Pol. Directive SSA-CW # 16-04

When the child is located, the local department with jurisdiction over the child is responsible for the following:

  • Ensuring that the child has transportation to the local department
  • Assisting local law enforcement or other responsible party with transportation of the child to a placement if found within the local department's jurisdiction
  • Retrieving the child, if he or she is found in another jurisdiction or State
  • Notifying the parents or legal guardian, placement provider, and attorneys that the child has been found
  • Obtaining a physical examination of the child and appropriate follow-up medical care for the child

In policy: Once the child is located, the caseworker shall do the following:

  • Notify law enforcement that the child has been located and ensure the child is removed from the NCIC database
  • Notify NCMEC that the child has been located
  • Conduct a face-to-face visit with the child within 5 business days

At the face-to-face visit, the caseworker shall ask specific questions about where and with whom the child was residing and how the child was taking care of him- or herself. The caseworker also shall ask if the child has a 'special friend' with whom he or she resided during the runaway episode, the nature of the relationship, and whether they felt safe.

The caseworker shall make close observations for any evidence of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or new tattoos or brands the child may have gotten while on runaway. The caseworker shall pay close attention to any unexplained purchases, such as new clothes, cellular phones, sex paraphernalia, or large amounts of cash, or any other known indicators of possible sex trafficking victimization.

If during the conversation the caseworker suspects the child has been a victim of human sex trafficking or the child admits to being a victim of human sex trafficking, the caseworker immediately shall make a child protective services report and notify the local law enforcement agency within 24 hours. For youth suspected of being victims, the caseworker shall refer the child for a full human trafficking assessment. For youth who are confirmed victims, the caseworker shall refer the child to appropriate specialized therapeutic services within 48 hours.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: Code of Regs. § 07.02.11.18

The caseworker shall contact the current placement provider to determine if the provider is willing to hold the child's placement. If the placement provider is willing to hold the placement, the following terms apply:

  • Payment of the board rate may be made for up to 30 days.
  • No difficulty-of-care stipend payment may be made for the period the child is on runaway or missing from the placement.
  • If the child fails to return within 30 days, the provider cannot be paid beyond the 30-day time limit.

If the placement provider will not hold the child's placement or the 30-day time period has expired, the caseworker shall do the following:

  • Contact the financial unit to stop the foster care payment for the child
  • Conduct a new placement search for the child