Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Massachusetts

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Code Regs. Tit. 110, § 7.115; DCF Pol. #2016-002

Whenever the Department of Children and Families learns that a foster child has run away or is missing from a foster/preadoptive home or from any temporary substitute care placement, the department shall immediately notify the local police department or other appropriate law enforcement agencies that the child has run away or is missing (or ensure that the foster/preadoptive parent(s) have done so) and provide such agencies with all known information that would assist them in locating the child. The name and telephone number of the department employee who should be notified if the child is located must also be provided.

Whenever the department receives information concerning the possible or suspected current whereabouts of a child who has run away or is missing from a foster home or from any temporary substitute care placement, the department immediately shall notify the appropriate law enforcement agencies and provide such information to them. If possible, the assigned department social worker also shall attempt to locate the child by going to the suspected location of the child.

In policy: Within 24 hours after a child or youth age 20 or younger in department care or custody is identified as missing, the department must contact the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children (NCMEC). If the child is in the care or custody of parent or caregiver, either the parent/caregiver or the department must notify NCMEC within 24 hours if the child is, or is at risk of being, a sex trafficking victim.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Code Regs. Tit. 110, § 7.115

Whenever a foster parent learns that a foster child has run away or is missing, the parent shall immediately notify the department and then the local police. Such notice shall include at least the following information:

  • The name and age of the child who ran away
  • The time when the child was last seen
  • The location where the child was last seen
  • A physical description of the child when last seen, including a description of the clothing worn by the child at that time
  • Any known or suspected locations where the child might be found and any known or suspected individuals who might know the whereabouts of the child

Whenever the department learns that a foster child has run away or is missing from a foster home or from any temporary substitute care placement, the department immediately shall do the following:

  • Notify the child's parent(s) (unless the parents' parental rights have been terminated) and notify the foster parent(s) that the child has run away or is missing, and provide them with the name and telephone number of the department employee who should be notified if the child is located
  • If the child was committed to the department by court order, notify the juvenile probation office of the court that issued the order
  • Contact any individuals who might know the whereabouts of the child, attempt to obtain any information such individuals have concerning the whereabouts of the child, and provide such individuals with the name and telephone number of the department employee who should be notified if the child is located

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

Citation: DCF Pol. #2016-002

Within 1 day after a missing child has been located, the social worker will consult with the child to determine the primary factors that contributed to the child running away or otherwise being missing.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Code Regs. Tit. 110, § 7.115; DCF Pol. #2016-002

When a child who has run away from a foster home or from any temporary substitute care placement is located by the department, the department shall interview the child as soon as possible to determine what changes, if any, should be made in the circumstances or conditions of the child's care or placement.

If the child has not returned to the foster home, the department will notify the foster parent(s) whether the child will be placed back in that foster home and inform the parents of the following:

  • If the child will return, the date and time when the child will return to the foster/preadoptive home
  • If the child will not return, the reason for the child not being placed back in that foster/preadoptive home

In policy: As soon as possible after the missing child has been located, the social worker will do the following:

  • Consult with the child's parents, placement resource, and others, as appropriate, about the circumstances under which the child became missing and their perspective on the location and/or type of placement that will keep the child safe and stable
  • Consult with the placement resource and others with relevant information to discuss whether it is safe and appropriate for the child to return to the last place the child resided before being reported as missing
  • Identify whether other children in the setting may be at risk, including for sexual exploitation or human trafficking
  • For a child in department custody, determine where the child wants to live and, if a change is needed, what type of placement the child would prefer

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Code Regs. Tit. 110, § 7.115; DCF Pol. #2016-002

When a child who has run away or is missing from a foster home or from any temporary substitute care placement is located by the foster parent or returns to the foster home, the foster parent immediately shall give notice to the department. Such notice shall include at least the following information:

  • The fact that the child has been located or has returned to the foster home
  • The current location of the child
  • The current physical and emotional condition of the child and whether it appears likely that the child requires medical, psychiatric, or other treatment
  • Whether it appears likely that the child will attempt to run away from his or her current location

When a child who has run away from a foster home or from any temporary substitute care placement is located by the department, the department shall do the following:

  • Ensure the child receives any required medical, psychiatric, or other treatment as soon as needed
  • Notify the following that the child has been located:
    • The appropriate law enforcement agencies
    • The child's parent(s) (unless the parents' parental rights have been terminated)
    • The foster/preadoptive parent(s)
    • If appropriate, the juvenile probation office of the court that committed the child to the department

In policy: When the child is located, the department also shall notify the following:

  • NCMEC
  • The State police Amber Alert coordinator
  • All others, including the multidisciplinary team coordinator, who were previously notified that the child was missing

Within 1 working day, the social worker will consult with the child in a trauma-informed and age-appropriate manner about the child's experiences while away to determine whether the child is a possible victim of sexual exploitation or human trafficking. If the child is a suspected or known victim of sexual exploitation or human trafficking, the social worker must do the following:

  • File a 51A (child abuse report) if the child is younger than age 16
  • Notify the district attorney and local law enforcement that the child of any age has been located and is a suspected or known victim of sexual exploitation or human trafficking

If needed (e.g., sexual exploitation is suspected, the child has an injury, or the child is in an acute psychiatric state), the social worker will arrange for a medical screening and/or a mental/behavioral health evaluation.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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