Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Texas

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Fam. Code § 264.123; DFPS Pol. Handbook §§ 6461.1; 6461.2

If a child in the managing conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) is missing from the child's substitute care provider, including a child who is abducted or is a runaway, DFPS shall notify the following that the child is missing:

  • The appropriate law enforcement agencies
  • The court with jurisdiction over the DFPS's managing conservatorship of the child

DFPS shall provide the notice no later than 24 hours after the time DFPS learns that the child is missing or as soon as possible, if a person entitled to notice cannot be notified within 24 hours.

From the policy handbook: If a child in DFPS's managing conservatorship runs away, is discovered to be missing, or is suspected to have been abducted from a substitute care placement, and the child's whereabouts are unknown, the caseworker must notify the following:

  • His or her supervisor
  • Appropriate law enforcement officials in the jurisdiction where the child went missing
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
  • The special investigator (SI) program director and regional director assistant, after the caseworker files a missing person or runaway report with NCMEC and with the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction for the location from which the child went missing

The caseworker must provide these notifications immediately and no later than 24 hours after learning the child is missing.

From the Locating Missing Children in DFPS Conservatorship: Resource Guide: If a child in DFPS's managing conservatorship runs away or is discovered to be missing from a substitute care placement and the child's whereabouts are unknown, the child's caseworker must notify the appropriate law enforcement (LE) officials (within 24 hours, or as soon as possible) and obtain the LE case number. The caseworker files a missing person/runaway report with the LE agency having jurisdiction at the location from where the child went missing. If a missing child meets the definition of an endangered child, the caseworker must report this information to law enforcement so the child can be designated as such in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Texas Crime Information Center.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Fam. Code § 264.123; DFPS Pol. Handbook §§ 6461.1; 6461.3

If a child in the managing conservatorship of DFPS is missing from the child's substitute care provider, including a child who is abducted or is a runaway, DFPS shall notify the following persons that the child is missing:

  • The child's attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem
  • The child's parent, unless the parent cannot be located or contacted, has had his or her parental rights terminated, or has executed an affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights

DFPS shall make continuing efforts to determine the location of a missing child until the child returns to substitute care, including the following:

  • Contacting the following on a monthly basis:
    • The appropriate law enforcement agencies
    • The child's relatives
    • The child's former caregivers
    • Any State or local social service agency that may be providing services to the child
  • Conducting a supervisory-level review of the case on a quarterly basis if the child is age 15 or younger to determine whether sufficient efforts have been made to locate the child and whether other action is needed

From the policy handbook: The caseworker must provide notice that the child is missing or has run away to the following parties:

  • Appropriate law enforcement officials
  • The court
  • The child's parents
  • The parents' attorney
  • The child's attorney ad litem, guardian ad litem, and court-appointed special advocate
  • The SI
  • NCMEC
  • The child's probation or parole officer, if applicable

The caseworker must continue ongoing efforts to locate the child, and the assigned SI must actively assist the caseworker in searching for the child until the child is found or the court dismisses conservatorship of the child. The SI must remain in contact with law enforcement and NCMEC, if applicable, on a weekly basis until the child is located.

From the resource guide: The SI assigned to the case will take the following actions:

  • Obtain needed information from the caseworker, including the LE and NCMEC case numbers
  • Collect recent photos of the child
  • Gather information on all relatives, friends, and associates
  • Obtain all relevant health information for the child, including information on medications
  • Obtain a copy of all court orders granting DFPS conservatorship of the child
  • Contact the LEA where the report was filed and provide the LEA with all photos; court orders; diagnoses; medication information; and available information on family, friends, and associates of the child, if not already done
  • If the caseworker has not already done so, notify NCMEC

The SI requests that law enforcement or NCMEC produce a flier on the child and confirms that the child is entered in the NCIC database. The SI provides the caseworker with a copy of any fliers produced by the LEA or NCMEC.

The SI remains in contact with the caseworker, LEA, and NCMEC (if applicable) on a continuous basis, but at a minimum on a weekly basis, until the child is located. This includes monthly contacts with the child's relatives, former caregivers, and any State or local social service agency that may be providing services to the child.

The SI conducts a search through all accessible internet sites and cell phone records. The SI should document evidence of the child's location; online activity; and/or the online enticement into, or compelling the child into, human trafficking activity. The SI should consider the child's online activity, such as whether the child has a blog, instant messaging accounts, Facebook, or other social media accounts. The SI should also investigate whether the child's cell phone activity has continued or stopped.

The SI reviews the child's record and interviews case reporters, parents, other caregivers, witnesses, siblings, friends, school staff, neighbors, and any other persons with information about the child and family.

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

Citation: Fam. Code § 264.123

After a missing child returns to the child's substitute care provider, DFPS shall interview the child to determine the reasons why the child was missing.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DFPS Pol. Handbook § 6461.5

If the reasons the child ran away or was absent from care are revealed during the interview, the caseworker must, to the extent possible, address those factors in the child's current and future placements.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Fam. Code § 264.123; DFPS Pol. Handbook § 6461.5

If a child has been reported as a missing child, DFPS shall notify the appropriate persons when the child returns to the child's substitute care provider no later than 24 hours after the time DFPS learns that the child has returned or as soon as possible, if a person entitled to notice cannot be notified within 24 hours.

After a missing child returns to the child's substitute care provider, DFPS shall interview the child to determine the reasons why the child was missing, where the child stayed during the time the child was missing, and whether, while missing, the child was a victim of sex trafficking. DFPS shall report to an appropriate law enforcement agency any disclosure made by a child that indicates that the child was the victim of a crime during the time the child was missing. DFPS shall make the report no later than 24 hours after the time the disclosure is made. DFPS is not required to interview a missing child if, at the time the child returns, DFPS knows that the child was abducted, and another agency is investigating the abduction.

From the policy handbook: If a child in DFPS's managing conservatorship returns to substitute care, the caseworker and/or the SI, whoever made first contact with the child, must interview the child to determine the following:

  • The reasons the child ran away or was absent from care
  • The child's experiences while absent, including screening to determine if the child was a sex or labor trafficking victim

If the interview identifies the child as a victim of trafficking, the caseworker must immediately, or no later than 24 hours after the identification, report the situation to local law enforcement.

The interviewer must contact the regional director assistant for further guidance. If the caseworker completes the interview, the caseworker must share the information with the SI, and if the SI completes the interview, the SI must share the information with the caseworker.

From the resource guide: With law enforcement cooperation, the caseworker conducts an interview with the recovered child. It is best practice to involve the SI in the interview process, if possible, due to their expertise. The interviews should consist of questions to determine the following:

  • If any child abuse and/or neglect occurred while the child was missing
  • If there are any indicators of human trafficking activities
  • Other experiences of the child while absent from care
  • The reasons why the child ran away from care

If not present at the interview, the caseworker shall share interview results with the SI so the SI can complete the found survey.

If child abuse/neglect or human trafficking is suspected, the caseworker shall schedule a forensic interview in coordination with law enforcement at a child advocacy center as soon as practical. The caseworker must consult with the assigned SI on all suspected human trafficking cases.

If the caseworker learns that abuse (including sex and human trafficking) and/or neglect occurred in the child's placement or by a household or family member while the child was missing from placement, the caseworker will make a referral to statewide intake. If the caseworker is made aware of allegations of sex or labor trafficking that may have occurred while the child was missing from placement, and the alleged perpetrator is not a household or family member, the caseworker will work with the SI to notify law enforcement.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

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