Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Minnesota

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13(b); DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall report immediately, but no later than 24 hours, after receiving information on a missing or abducted child to the local law enforcement agency for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

From Minnesota Department of Human Services Best Practice Guide: Caregivers, including foster parents, relative caregivers, and staff of residential facilities, shall immediately (within 24 hours) report any missing youth to the following:

  • Local law enforcement agency, providing a description of what youth was last wearing, time last seen, is believed that a youth has unwillingly left placement or has been removed by an unauthorized person, etc., so its agency staff can enter the information into the NCIC database
  • The child's caseworker and on-call worker, if after business hours

When a caseworker learns that a youth for whom an agency is legally responsible is missing, they shall immediately contact (within 1 business day) the following:

  • The law enforcement agency to ensure a verbal report was made by the caregiver and to provide any additional information
  • NCMEC

NCMEC will publish the report on its website and distribute posters locally and nationally. The name and identifying information will be published, but the youth will not be identified as a youth in foster care. This does not violate confidentiality.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13; DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall expeditiously locate any child missing from foster care.

From the practice guide: As soon as a youth enters care, a photograph must be taken for the social services case file. The caseworker also shall record physical descriptive information, such as height, weight, hair and eye color, and complexion, and identifiers such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, braces, body piercings, tattoos, and other unique physical attributes. If a youth has a history of running away, the caseworker will create a safety plan with all parties and clearly designate roles and responsibilities.

Supervisors and primary caseworkers (the youth's assigned worker who has responsibility for case management, service coordination, and delivery) are expected to work aggressively to locate a missing youth and return them to an approved placement.

When a caseworker learns that a youth for whom an agency is legally responsible is missing, they shall immediately contact (within 1 business day) the following:

  • The youth's parent(s), guardian, or legal custodian
  • The youth's school and request that they contact the caseworker if youth contacts or arrives at school
  • The guardian ad litem
  • Other team members who may need to know
  • The county attorney to request that an ex parte order be filed with the juvenile court to have the youth picked up

Caseworkers are to follow the steps outlined below anytime a youth is missing:

  • Develop a plan with specific strategies to locate the youth
  • Meet weekly with the supervisor regarding efforts to locate the youth
  • In consultation with the supervisor, review and/or revise the plan, as needed, to ensure progress is made toward locating the youth and establishing safety
  • Attempt to contact the youth via phone or text
  • Check social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

When a youth's whereabouts are unknown, caseworkers must make a sustained effort to locate the youth by contacting the people, agencies, or organizations (and others as identified by the specific case) listed below at least monthly and requesting that each person/agency contact the caseworker immediately if information becomes available that could assist in locating the youth. People, agencies, or organizations to contact include the following:

  • The local law enforcement agency
  • Local emergency shelters and homeless youth programs
  • The most recent caregiver and any other caregivers with whom the youth has a close or long-term relationship
  • Relatives, including parents and siblings
  • Neighbors and the landlord at the last known address
  • Close friends, classmates, or community members with whom the youth may have developed a significant relationship
  • Teachers, counselors, or other school personnel
  • Other employees of an agency who may have knowledge of possible locations of the youth
  • Other information systems such as MAXIS (Minnesota Statewide Automated Eligibility System), MMIS (Medicaid Management Information System), PRISM (Providing Resources to Improve Support in Minnesota) child support system, and TCIS (Trial Court Information System)
  • Probation officers (if applicable)
  • County juvenile or adult detention centers

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

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13; DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall determine the primary factors that contributed to the child's running away or otherwise being absent from care and, to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements.

From the practice guide: When a youth for whom an agency is responsible runs away from a placement and is still missing after 24 hours, agency staff and caregiver(s) must make a decision regarding continuation of the youth's placement location. When deciding whether to return the youth to the last placement, caseworkers shall do the following:

  • Interview caregivers and the youth separately to determine why the youth ran away
  • Discuss the reasons given by caregivers and the youth with the supervisor to determine whether the reasons for running away are related to the placement itself and whether services would be beneficial to stabilize the placement and mitigate future incidents
  • Update the out-of-home placement plan to address current service needs and placement decisions

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13; DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall determine the primary factors that contributed to the child's running away or otherwise being absent from care and, to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements.

From the practice guide: Any new placement in a substitute care setting must include a determination of the individual needs of the youth and the ability of prospective caregiver(s) to meet those needs. If a youth has a history of running away or indicates that they will not accept a specific placement, caseworkers shall discuss with the youth and take into account where they want to live or what type of placement youth is willing to accept, such as any of the following:

  • A particular relative
  • A former caregiver or another adult with whom youth has formed a relationship
  • Reunification with parent(s), if possible
  • A group home or congregate care setting
  • A supervised independent or transitional living setting (if the youth is able to live independently and is between the age of 18 and 21)

The caseworker will update the out-of-home placement plan to address current service needs and placement decisions.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13; DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall determine what the child experienced while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim. The agency shall report immediately, but no later than 24 hours, to the local law enforcement agency any reasonable cause to believe a child is, or is at risk of being, a sex trafficking victim.

The local social services agency shall determine appropriate services with respect to any child for whom the local social services agency has responsibility for placement, care, or supervision when the local social services agency has reasonable cause to believe is, or is at risk of being, a sex trafficking victim.

From the practice guide: Once a youth has been located and is in a safe placement, caseworkers shall do the following:

  • Conduct a thorough follow-up interview with the youth using the required Runaway Youth Debriefing form to determine the primary factors that contributed to the run, to screen the youth for possible sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, and to help them problem solve to develop solutions
  • Inform law enforcement, NCMEC, and all others who were notified of the run that the youth has been located
  • Determine if there is reason to believe that the youth has been a victim of sex trafficking; make a report to law enforcement within 24 hours
  • Determine if there is reason to believe that the youth has been sexually exploited; refer the youth to a Safe Harbor regional navigator to determine appropriate services
  • Review the youth's placement options
  • Ensure that a medical examination is scheduled as soon as possible, if it is determined that one is necessary, taking into account the amount of time on the run and experiences while on the run
  • Replace clothing or personal items the youth may need
  • Address the youth's service, treatment, and placement needs and revise the service plan, if needed
  • Ensure that a court hearing is held within 72 hours of the youth being picked up to review appropriate placement and services
  • Take a current photo of the youth (and update annually) and place it in the court and social services case files

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 260C.212, Subd. 13; DHS Best Practice Guide

The local social services agency shall not discharge a child from foster care or close the social services case until diligent efforts have been exhausted to locate the child and the court terminates the agency's jurisdiction.

From the practice guide: The caseworker must keep the juvenile court informed of ongoing search efforts by filing court reports and attending court hearings. These cases shall remain open; court hearings will be held at least every 3 months.