Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - New Hampshire

Date:

Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

From the Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) policy manual: When a youth involved with DCYF is missing, the parent or caregiver must contact local law enforcement immediately and in no case later than 24 hours. If the report is not made by the parent or placement provider, the caseworker or supervisor must notify the law enforcement agency that the youth is missing and verify that the youth is entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, including the following information:

  • The name of the youth
  • The name of the reporter
  • The relationship of the reporter to the missing youth
  • The name, age, and address of the authorized residence
  • All identifying characteristics of the missing youth (with a recent photo, if available)
  • The last known location of the youth
  • The length of time the youth has been missing
  • All other information considered important by either the reporter or the law enforcement agency

When the caseworker determines, based on available information, that the youth may have been abducted, he or she must do the following:

  • Apprise the local law enforcement agency of the reason it is believed the youth was abducted, including a description of the vehicle and/or person suspected, if known
  • Request the activation of the New Hampshire Child Abduction Emergency Alert Plan

If there is reasonable cause to believe that the youth is at a specific location or is identified on a website (e.g., Backpage or a dating site), the caseworker shall notify the law enforcement agency and request the youth be apprehended. If that specific location is out of State, the caseworker shall notify the Deputy Compact Administrator for the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ).

The caseworker shall obtain the corresponding missing person report number generated by the law enforcement agency.

The caseworker also shall complete the following actions:

  • Advise the law enforcement agency on the steps DCYF is taking to search for the missing youth, such as the following:
    • Making collateral contacts
    • Attempting to further determine the whereabouts of the youth and any special circumstances (e.g., medical/mental health condition) through ongoing case contacts
    • Obtaining any history significant to the possible whereabouts of the youth
  • Complete the missing child/youth worksheet, with a picture of the child/youth and the plan for placement of the child/youth when recovered, and send it to the 'DHHS-DCYF-Youth Runaway' email address before the end of his or her work hours

DCYF administration shall designate one staff with access to this email account as responsible for providing notifications to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) by the end of the business day in which an email was received.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

When a youth involved with DCYF is missing, all efforts will be made to determine whether the youth has been abducted or has run away. Upon receipt of a notification that a youth with an open family services case is missing, the caseworker shall make collateral contacts, including the following:

  • Checking with the school or where the youth should be at the time of the notification
  • Contacting the current caregiver (the youth's parent or placement provider) for the following purposes:
    • Assess/determine if they know the youth's whereabouts
    • Inquire about any family or friends of the youth who may know more information, or any websites the youth frequently visited or used
    • Request that they contact law enforcement to open a missing child report providing all details from the youth's last known whereabouts and appearance
    • If the child has been in a placement, ask that they notify the parent that the youth is missing, and law enforcement has been notified

The caseworker also should do the following:

  • Inform the parent or guardian that the caseworker will reach out every 2 weeks to share any information received and ask if they have heard from the youth
  • Advise contacts that any person can add information to the NCMEC report by calling the NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST

Staff notified that a youth is missing between the hours of 4:30 pm and 8:00 am Monday through Friday, or on weekends and holidays, must direct the caller to call Central Intake. Intake staff will make the notification to NCMEC outside of business hours as necessary and prepare a referral for the caseworker assigned to the case. The caseworker must attempt to contact the youth's parents as soon as possible but no later than the close of the next business day if the child is in placement, unless otherwise instructed by the law enforcement agency.

The supervisor must verify the following with the caseworker:

  • Contact was made with local law enforcement agency and the youth is entered into NCIC as a missing person.
  • The youth is reported to NCMEC.
  • A timely determination has been made of whether the youth was abducted or ran away.

During the absence of the youth, the caseworker shall support efforts to locate and return a missing youth by doing the following:

  • Reviewing initial efforts to locate the youth with his or her supervisor within 24 hours and establishing an ongoing plan to locate the youth
  • Maintaining ongoing contact with the parents or guardians, siblings, friends, school personnel, professionals, other collateral contacts, and any caseworker who may know the youth to attempt to determine the possible location of the youth
  • Reviewing any websites that the youth is reported to have used every couple of weeks to monitor for updates, as accessible
  • Maintaining contact with the local law enforcement and other responding agencies to provide and receive updates on any new information
  • Reviewing efforts to locate the youth with his or her supervisor every 14 calendar days after the date of the youth's disappearance
  • Documenting all efforts and communications in the case contact log

The field administrator shall provide oversight at least once every other week that ensures efforts to locate the youth continue.

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

Citation: DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

When the youth is located, the caseworker must meet with the youth within 24 business hours, but no later than 72 hours, after their return to complete a screening. The screening should determine the primary factors that contributed to the youth's running away or otherwise being absent from care.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

When the youth is located, the caseworker must take the following action:

  • Meet with the youth within 24 business hours, but no later than 72 hours, after their return to complete a screening to determine the youth's willingness to stay at his or her current residence
  • Determine service planning for each youth after he or she returns from an abduction or runaway episode
  • Ensure that the youth's case plan addresses the primary factors that contributed to the runaway or absence episode for the current and subsequent placements
  • Clearly define efforts for follow-up case coordination and service planning with the agencies involved, including consideration of any other supports the youth may need for general health or well-being

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

When the youth is located, the caseworker must take the following action:

  • Contact the New Hampshire ICJ deputy compact administrator for the return of all children or youth found in another State
  • Support the parent or placement provider in picking up the youth located in New Hampshire and returning the youth to the appropriate residence
  • Take a photograph of the youth upon their return and appropriately document any new physical characteristics (such as marks and tattoos)
  • Work collaboratively with the involved agencies to ensure the following notifications are made, if they were not previously completed:
    • Notify the local law enforcement agency
    • Notify the parents or guardians, unless otherwise requested by a law enforcement agency
    • Contact NCMEC to identify that the youth has been located
    • Update the supervisor and the field administrator
    • As appropriate, notify the supervising family court, court-appointed special advocates or guardians ad litem, schools, service providers, and other individuals or agencies involved
  • Work collaboratively with law enforcement and other responding agencies to interview the youth and coordinate further investigative efforts, such as with law enforcement, child advocacy centers, or the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, as follows:
    • Make efforts to avoid multiple interviews to support the youth's emotional well-being
    • Follow policy 1554 (Response to Human Trafficking €“ Screening, Referral and Case Planning) for children or youth determined to be victims of human trafficking

In collaboration with law enforcement and other responding agencies when available, the caseworker must meet with the youth within 24 business hours, but no later than 72 hours, after his or her return to complete a screening. Children or youth might experience a wide range of traumatic events while missing (including abduction or human trafficking), and the screening process must prioritize their well-being. The screening should determine the following:

  • The child's activities and experiences while absent, including if he or she may be a victim of human trafficking
  • Other individual(s) who may have been assisting or were involved in the incident

The caseworker must refer matters to law enforcement when information obtained during screening indicates the youth may have been or was a victim of a crime. If there is concern that a missing youth was a victim of human trafficking and is at risk for continuing to put themselves in harm€™s way, immediate services may be sought to keep the youth safe.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: Admin. Rules § He-C 6355.21; DCYF Policy Man., Pol. # 1558

Foster care programs shall continue to be reimbursed by DCYF at their authorized board and care and treatment rate for up to 10 consecutive days if the following conditions are met:

  • The foster care program remains available to expedite the return of the child to the program.
  • The child has not been placed into another DCYF-funded residential treatment program during that time period.

If a child runs away, the foster care program shall not bill Medicaid during the time that the child is absent without leave.

If it is known at the time a child runs away that the child will not be returning to the foster care program, then the child's payment authorization to the program shall be closed out immediately.

In policy: The youth€™s DCYF case must remain open during the youth€™s absence unless otherwise determined by the DCYF director.

In determining whether to keep a case open if a youth is missing and does not return before their 18th birthday, the DCYF director may identify circumstances where it is appropriate to close a case when a youth has not returned. If there are no other children in the case that the division is still working with, the caseworker should consult with their supervisor and/or field administrator about the appropriateness of asking the court to close the case, if applicable.