Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Tennessee

Date: May 2020

Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Supp. to Policy # 31.2

From the Protocol for Reporting Runaways, Absconders and Escapees (Supplement to Policy # 31.2): Upon determining that a youth has run away from a placement, the caseworker, foster parent, or contract provider agency staff must complete the following steps immediately in the order listed below:

  • The foster parent or contract provider agency staff shall contact local law enforcement (LE) and have the youth entered as a 'missing person.'
  • The contract provider agency staff or foster parent next contacts the caseworker.
  • LE is responsible for entering the youth into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and into the Missing Children of Tennessee databases.
  • The reporter obtains the NCIC number and provides it to the caseworker within 1 business day. If LE cannot immediately provide the number, the caseworker makes it a priority to obtain the number as soon as possible.
  • The caseworker requests a copy of the NCIC report, which is documented in the youth's case file.
  • The caseworker next contacts the Department of Children's Services (DCS) Absconder Unit (DCS AU) to notify the unit of the youth's status.
  • The caseworker files a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • The DCS AU provides follow up with the caseworker within 3 business days to ensure this step has been completed.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Supp. to Policy # 31.2

Upon determining that a youth has run away from a placement, the caseworker must do the following:

  • Telephone the parents or caregiver to report the youth has run away
  • Within 24 hours of the runaway incident, file a petition and request an attachment with the committing court and request copies of both

Upon notification that a custodial youth has run away, the caseworker conducts a thorough investigation of the youth's last known whereabouts. This investigation must include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Contacting contract agency staff, parents, foster parents, or other caregivers
  • Contacting the youth's friends, school personnel, police, hospitals, clinics, and Department of Human Services Child Support Offices
  • Contacting other individuals/agencies with which the family may have been in contact
  • Checking social media sites for information

The caseworker must do the following:

  • Make one unannounced home visit weekly for the first 30 days
  • After the first 30 days, make one unannounced home visit monthly
  • Contact the youth's parents or caregivers by telephone at least two times per month
  • If the parents do not live together, contact each parent separately
  • Conduct a full diligent search immediately if the family has moved without notice to DCS

The DCS AU provides assistance by prioritizing cases based on the medical or mental health needs and condition of the youth, age of the youth, and length of time on runaway. The unit gathers pertinent information to investigate what happened at the location of the run and the youth's background and history to prioritize the case. The type of support the DCS AU provides is determined by the priority level, as follows:

  • Low priority: The DCS AU tracks and monitors the youth through available reports and contacts the regional absconder representative at least one time per month.
  • Moderate priority: The DCS AU assists caseworkers by phone with guidance and possible resources to assist the search. DCS AU tracks the youth through social media and other media avenues to assist the caseworker in determining the possible location of the youth.
  • High priority: The caseworker partners with the regional absconder representative to identify high-risk youth for an active search. The caseworker and DCS AU staff actively seek the youth by going to relative homes, schools, community centers, malls/shopping centers, and contacting local law enforcement. The DCS AU obtains information from known friends, associates, and relatives of the youth to identify any possible leads and known locations.

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

Citation: Admin. Pol. & Proc. § 31.2

From the policy manual: Once a youth has been located and returned to custody, the caseworker determines the primary factors contributing to the youth running away or being absent from care in order to appropriately respond to the youth's needs in subsequent placements.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Admin. Pol. & Proc. § 31.2

Once a youth has been located and returned to custody, the caseworker will convene a child and family team (CFT) meeting prior to placement, whenever possible, to determine how to best meet the youth's needs and to discourage future runaway episodes.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Admin. Pol. & Proc. § 31.2

Once a youth has been located and returned to custody, the caseworker must do the following:

  • Within 1 business day of recovery of the youth, notify the LE that entered the youth into NCIC, the regional absconder representative, and the absconder unit
  • Notify the parents or legal guardians that the youth has been located
  • By the next business day, notify all courts where a runaway petition/attachment was filed
  • Immediately send a referral packet to the placement team to ensure a safe placement is available as runaway youth are located
  • Ensure that any youth who reports sexual assault, physical assault, intravenous drug use, and/or is a victim or suspected victim of trafficking receives an immediate medical evaluation from a hospital emergency room, child advocacy center, or a community health-care provider to reduce the chance of contracting HIV, STDs, and/or pregnancy

The youth may choose to refuse a medical evaluation but should be taken to a health-care provider regardless so the youth may discuss the decision with a medical professional. Any youth that has been on a runaway episode for more than 24 hours and does not have any injuries should be scheduled for an Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Standards interperiodic medical exam as soon as possible after returning to their placement.

Caseworkers and any CFT member must make an immediate child abuse hotline referral when any youth reports commercial sexual exploitation.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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