Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - South Carolina

Date: May 2020

Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

From the policy and procedure manual: If a child runs away or goes missing from placement, the worker shall, after receiving information on the missing or abducted child, report the case within 24 hours, to law enforcement authorities for entry into the National Crime Information Center database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in accordance with their protocols for such action.

The worker should provide the following information:

  • Correct identifying information and any special circumstances that could place the child or the public at increased risk, including age, medical conditions, medications that could affect health or conduct if missed, physical or mental disabilities, history of criminal conduct or physical violence that could affect the responding officer's or the public's safety, and any history of suicidal ideation or action
  • Whether the child has run away previously and was found at or known to have been at a particular location
  • Addresses of parents, family, friends, and any significant persons in the child's life
  • Any other information that could lead to helping locate the child
  • A photo of the child

The worker shall file a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The worker shall sign the release and verification form for NCMEC, indicating his or her job title on the form and that the signer is executing the release on behalf of the Department of Social Services (DSS), the child's custodian.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

When a child is reported as missing from foster care, the worker shall do the following:

  • Notify the following persons:
    • The parent/legal guardian
    • The child's guardian ad litem
    • School officials
    • Any service providers who may be affected
  • Obtain a copy of any missing person report and place it in the child's case file
  • Upon receipt of a signed pick-up order from a judge (if applicable), supply the order to law enforcement

The worker also shall do the following:

  • Consult with the State office IV-E coordinator if the child's runaway/missing status continues for 30 days or longer
  • Contact parents and/or other relatives or friends at least every 2 weeks (by letter, phone, or visit) to explore possible leads on the child's whereabouts
  • Conduct follow-up contact with law enforcement at least every 2 weeks to determine the status of their efforts in locating the child
  • Contact the Office of Investigation at least every 2 weeks to share information regarding efforts to locate the child
  • Document all efforts to locate and retrieve the child in the case file

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

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

As soon as possible after a child runs away from care, the worker shall meet with the foster family/caregiver to determine primary factors that possibly contributed to the child's running away or being absent from care.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

To the extent possible and appropriate, the worker shall respond to the factors that contributed to the child's running away in current and subsequent placements. Upon the child returning to care, the worker shall place the child in a setting that addresses or remedies the issues that led to the child's runaway status, consulting the information provided by the foster parent/caregiver.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

Upon the child returning to care, the worker shall do the following:

  • Determine the child's experiences while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim
  • Notify NCMEC no later than 24 hours after the child's return
  • Follow the local community response protocol, including the following:
    • Calling the local child advocacy center (CAC) to determine whether the CAC believes a medical needs assessment of the child is necessary
    • Arranging for a forensic interview if a forensic interview is recommended by the CAC
    • Conducting a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting for a case staffing for commercial sexual exploitation of children, if recommended by the CAC
  • Report to law enforcement any related information obtained from the CAC case staffing of the child, if recommended
  • Place a copy of the child's medical needs assessment, a copy of the forensic interview (if applicable), and the results of the MDT meeting in the child's case file

If, at any point, the worker has reasonable cause to believe that the child has been a victim of sex trafficking, the worker shall follow the protocol for screening and service planning for sex trafficking victims.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: Hum. Serv. Pol. & Proc. Man. § 550.4

The agency shall not seek court-ordered emancipation of a child solely due to the child€™s runaway status.

Runaway foster children are in agency custody until a court relieves the agency of custody or the child reaches adulthood. It is not appropriate for DSS as custodian to ask the court to be relieved of custody or to ask for a child to be emancipated when the sole basis for the request is that the child is on runaway status.

To ask the court to emancipate a child, DSS must be able to show to the court that the child is not at risk of harm, is self-sufficient, and is self-supporting. To ask to be relieved of custody, DSS must be able show the child is not at risk of harm and that appropriate arrangements for care of the child are in place.

Children on runaway status are considered to be in foster care.