Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Missouri

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: CW Man. § 4.9.1

In policy: When a child in care is determined to be a runaway, the case manager should immediately, but no later than 24 hours, notify law enforcement to file a missing child report. The resource provider should initiate contact with local law enforcement and the child's worker if the child is missing or has run away from their premises. This includes the Highway Patrol, so they can add the child to their system, which can be searched across the State.

Within 24 hours, the case manager shall notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). When reporting to NCMEC, the case manager should be prepared to provide the following information:

  • The child's case manager's name and contact information
  • Information regarding the law enforcement agency involved, including the case number and assigned law enforcement officer's contact information
  • Descriptive information regarding the missing child, including date of birth, height, weight, physical description (eye color, hair color, complexion, tattoos, piercings, etc.), clothing worn at the time the child was last seen, and medical and/or mental health conditions
  • Details surrounding the circumstances leading to the child's missing status

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: CW Man. §§ 4.9.1; 4.9.5

When a child in care is determined to be a runaway, the case manager should take the following steps:

  • Notify the juvenile officer, guardian ad litem, and the child's parents
  • Contact family members, friends, counselors, school faculty, or others who may have information about the whereabouts of the child; continue to make these contacts a minimum of once per month until the child is located
  • Follow procedures for creating a protective service alert
  • Check with the Family Support Division and food stamp assistance information monthly to see if the child is receiving assistance or is listed in separate household receiving benefits
  • Immediately send out a statewide protective service alert

If the court of jurisdiction does not agree to a release of custody and the child is not located, the worker should continue to do the following:

  • Contact law enforcement, family, relatives, friends, and all other contacts once per month in an effort to locate the child for a minimum of 6 months
  • Monthly cross-check the Family Support Division and food stamps databases
  • If after 6 months, the child is not located, continue to contact law enforcement, relatives, and other contacts on a quarterly basis in effort to locate child
  • Continue to provide a written summary to the court on all actions taken to locate child
  • Resubmit the request for release of jurisdiction at all court hearings

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

Citation: CW Man. § 4.9.4

When a runaway or missing child is located, the case manager should schedule a family support team (FST) meeting within 72 hours of child's return to address the reasons the child ran away (i.e., didn't like the rules, placement issues, couldn't handle responsibilities in home, ran to be with friends, parents, others).

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: CW Man. § 4.9.4

When a runaway or missing child is located, the case manager must assess the factors that led to the child being absent and, to the greatest extent possible, address those factors in subsequent placements. The case manager also should do the following:

  • Determine whether to do the following:
    • Return child to the previous resource provider
    • Place child in a new or temporary placement
    • Place child in a more secure or restrictive environment
    • Seek approval for a nontraditional placement (i.e. friend of child, older sibling, parents who rights are been terminated but continue their relationship with child)
  • Schedule an FST meeting within 72 hours of child's return to address the following:
    • Safety concerns
    • Additional support services the child may need
    • Unexplored or nontraditional placements options
    • Potential changes in the child's case plan

It is important for FST members to consider case-specific information when addressing these issues or making changes to the child's case plan. Members should consider the specific needs of the child, especially when considering alternative placement settings. Any child age 12 or older should be included in the FST meeting.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: CW Man. § 4.9.4

When a runaway or missing child is located, the case manager should determine the child's experiences while absent, including whether the child fell victim to commercial child sexual exploitation (CSEC). Indicators that a child is involved in CSEC include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Has frequent runaway episodes
  • Has a heightened sense fear or distrust of authority
  • Is unable to identify where they were while they were gone
  • Has money or material goods without a clear explanation of how they were obtained
  • Has physical injuries with no explanation of how they were received
  • Has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a history of STIs
  • Uses drugs and/or alcohol
  • Reports sexual assaults by strangers
  • Talks about a paramour but does not provide their identity
  • Has frequent unexplained absences from school
  • Is involved in gang activity
  • Appears fearful, anxious, depressed, tense, nervous, paranoid, or hypervigilant
  • Has multiple cell phones
  • Has hotel keys or talks about staying in hotels
  • Has suspicious tattoos or other signs of branding
  • Has inappropriate, sexually suggestive activity on social media, the internet, or cell phone apps
  • Refuses to talk about their experiences while on runaway status
  • Associates and/or has relationships with age-inappropriate friends

When a runaway or missing child is located, the case manager also should also complete the following actions:

  • Immediately assess the safety of child
  • Notify law enforcement, the juvenile office, the guardian ad litem, the resource provider, the child's parents and their attorney, as appropriate, of the child's return
  • Determine whether to arrange for medical or mental health screening
  • Arrange for a medical examination of the child within 24 hours of the child's return

Once a child is located, the case manager must talk to the child to determine the factors that led to the child's absence and their experiences while they were gone. Questions to ask include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • What made you leave your placement?
  • Where did you go when you left?
  • How did you take care of yourself while you were gone?
  • Who helped you while you were gone?
  • Did you have to do anything in exchange for their help?
  • Did anyone hurt you?
  • Did you do anything that made you uncomfortable?
  • Are you worried about anything that happened to you while you were away?

The case manager also should notify NCMEC of the child's return.

If a child provides information that may indicate they were abused or involved in trafficking, the following must occur immediately but no later than 24 hours after receiving the information:

  • The case manager must immediately contact the child abuse hotline to make a report of child abuse and neglect.
  • The case manager should inform the hotline of any suspicion of involvement in human trafficking.

In addition, the case manager shall do the following:

  • Ensure that law enforcement is notified of the concern
  • Make a referral to the Child Advocacy Center for a forensic interview to further explore the child's experiences in care if there is an indication the child was abused or trafficked
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: CW Man. § 4.9.5

The first priority of the worker always shall be to locate a runaway child and remedy the reasons that the child has run. However, there may be individual cases where the Children's Division may want to explore a request for release of jurisdiction from the court. All requests for release of custodial responsibility should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the case manager, their direct supervisor, and FST team members. During the FST meeting, there should be a thorough review of documented efforts and consideration of the following factors:

  • The age of the child
  • The number and type of previous placements
  • The current and concurrent case plan
  • Whether termination of parental rights has or has not occurred
  • The child's progress and compliance in cooperating with the division's services
  • The child's run history (one-time event verses chronic runs)
  • Whether the child is running to a specific place or person
  • Whether there is an exit plan in place for the child to provide ongoing support

It is important that a child never be released from custody without an exit plan in place as it is the division's responsibility to ensure that youth leaving the foster care system either have support services in place or know how to obtain them as needed in the future. Noncompliance cannot be used as the sole reason to request termination of custodial duties by the division. With this understanding, there may be rare situations where it is appropriate to request a release of jurisdiction when it is clear that there is a documented history of chronic and repeated noncompliance on the child's part to accept placements and services offered by the division or in cases in which the child has been missing without contact for a minimum of 12 months.

This does not include cases in which the child has run to a nonapproved placement and remains in contact with the worker. Placement issues need to be addressed by the worker, the child, FST members, and the court.