Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Utah

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

From the Practice Guidelines: If the child is under age 18, the caregiver must notify the caseworker immediately that the child is missing. This includes the last time the child was seen, when the caregiver noticed he or she was missing, and what he or she was wearing.

Upon receiving information from the caregiver that the child is missing, the caseworker will do the following:

  • Staff the case within 2 hours of receiving the information with members of the Child and Family Team (CFT) to determine if the child has run away or is missing, kidnapped, or abducted
  • File a missing person report immediately with the law enforcement agency where the child resides and provide any necessary information in the report that will promote the safe return of the child, including the following:
    • Demographic information and recent photographs of the child
    • Blood type, dental records, scars, marks, tattoos, and other identifiable features
    • Where the child was last seen
  • Work with law enforcement to determine if an Amber Alert should be issued
  • Obtain a case record (police report and number) from the law enforcement agency
  • Request that the child be placed on the National Crime Information Center database for missing persons within 2 hours of the report being made
  • Report that the child is missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)
  • For the report to NCMEC, gather case information and relevant materials, including the following:
    • The child's full name and date of birth
    • The date the child went missing
    • The city and State from where child went missing
    • Guardian information, including agency name, and telephone
    • Law enforcement information, including agency name and telephone

NCMEC also requests comprehensive information regarding the child in order to be able to effectively assist in locating the child. This includes physical descriptive information (e.g., height, weight, hair and eye color, clothing worn) any risks or endangerments to the child, circumstances surrounding the incident, a description of any person who may be with the child, and a photograph.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

If it is determined that the child has run away, the caseworker will do the following:

  • Notify the parent(s) and/or guardian within 24 hours that the child has run away
  • Engage the parent(s) and/or guardian to determine if the child has run to the parent(s) and/or guardian, as follows:
    • If the family does know where the child is but refuses to disclose the location of the child, the caseworker will ask if the child's basic needs are being met.
    • If the family does not know where the child is but commits to notifying the caseworker if the child makes contact with the family, the caseworker will continue to follow-up with the family on possible leads. Any information gained from these conversations will be given to law enforcement to aid in finding the child.
    • The caseworker will inform the family of the current statute regarding harboring a runaway.
  • Notify the assistant attorney general (AAG) that the child has run away and pursue a warrant under Utah Code Ann. § 78A-6-106(6)
  • Notify the guardian ad litem and child's parent or guardian who has a right to parent-time with the child that a warrant has been issued
  • If it is during the school year, contact the school and request that they notify the Division of Child and Family Services if the child contacts or arrives at school
  • Notify other members of the CFT that the child has run away
  • Try to make contact with the child through a variety of means, including texting, email, and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), as well as through any other family or relational contacts at least weekly until the child has been located or 8 weeks from the time the child was reported as runaway, whichever is sooner, to assess if the child is safe and their needs are being met
  • If the child responds to the outreach made by the caseworker, gather critical information regarding the safety and well-being of the child

If the child makes contact, the caseworker will encourage the child to come back into care. This must be done with sensitivity to the child and his or her situation, as the child may have been running from an unsafe situation and does not trust the division or the caseworker.

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

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

Once the child is located, the caseworker will determine the primary factors that caused or contributed to the child's absence from care. The caseworker will select a placement for the child that accommodates the child's needs and takes into consideration the factors and experiences that led to the child running from care.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

If the child engages in chronic runaway behavior (i.e., has run away more than three times a year or more than once in a 30-day period), the caseworker will assess with the CFT the reasons the child is running and implement strategies to address the behavior. This could include the following:

  • Assessing the placement to determine if the placement best meets the needs of the child
  • Considering a higher or lower level of care if it better meets the needs of the child
  • Determining if the child is running to something/someone such as family, peers, and/or intimate relationships
  • If the child is running to someone, consider making these relationships part of the CFT
  • Assessing if there are issues at school that have an impact on the placement or contribute to the runaway behavior, such as bullying or other negative peer relationships or struggles with academic progress
  • Addressing with the child's treatment provider issues relating to the runway behavior
  • If necessary, conducting a professional staffing with the region permanency specialists

Once the child is located, the caseworker will assist the resource family consultant to give resources to the placement that may aid in the placement's ability to care for the child, including research articles and training materials.

A CFT meeting will be convened as soon as possible after the child has been returned to determine the correct placement of the child and to determine if additional services are needed as a result of any trauma or behavioral needs the child may have.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

Once the child is located, the caseworker will do the following:

  • Remove the child from the NCMEC website
  • Assess if the child is a victim of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), including conducting an interview with the child in a neutral location after the child's physical needs have been met and the child is safe
  • Screen the child for CSEC by asking the following screening questions:
    • Did someone control, supervise, or monitor your work/actions?
    • Could you leave your job or work situation if you wanted to?
    • Was your communication ever restricted or monitored?
    • Were you able to access medical care?
    • Were you ever allowed to leave the place you were living/working?
    • Under what conditions?
    • Was your movement outside of your residence/workplace ever monitored or controlled?
    • What did you think would have happened if you left the situation?
    • Was there ever a time when you wanted to leave but felt that you could not?
    • What do you think would have happened if you left without telling anyone?
    • Did you feel it was your only option to stay in the situation?
    • Did anyone ever force you to do something physically or sexually that you didn't feel comfortable doing?
    • Were you ever physically abused (shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, scratched, punched, burned, etc.) by anyone?
    • Were you ever sexually abused (sexual assault/unwanted touching, rape, sexual exploitation, etc.) by anyone?
    • Did anyone ever introduce you to or provide you with drugs or medications?

If the child reports that they may be victims of CSEC, the caseworker will access the appropriate resources to address the CSEC. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Report to law enforcement within 24 hours that the child may be a victim of CSEC and assist in the investigation
  • Access the appropriate mental health care, preferably with a therapist that specializes in treating victims of CSEC
  • Inform the placement that the child may be a victim of CSEC

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: Div. of Child & Family Serv. Practice Guidelines, § 300.8

The caseworker will staff the case with their regional administrative team to determine if the out-of-home caregiver should continue to be paid, as outlined in Administrative Guidelines § 060.8, while the child is on the run. The agreement to pay the out-of-home caregiver will not exceed 10 days.

If the child is on the run for more than 8 weeks, the caseworker will contact the law enforcement agency who took the initial report to give further information, including dental records, scars, marks and tattoos, jewelry type, blood type, and other identifiable features in the event that a deceased is discovered locally or nationwide.

If the child is on the run for more than 12 weeks, the caseworker will staff the case with regional administration to determine if the case should remain open or if a petition to close the case should be filed. If a petition is filed requesting the case be closed, the caseworker must address in the petition what steps have been taken to find the child. If possible, the caseworker will include verification that the child is safe while the child has been on the run and whether the child will continue to be safe. If the case is to remain open, the caseworker will make monthly attempts to locate the child.

If the child over age 18 has run away, the caseworker will convene a professional staffing within 24 hours to determine if the case should remain open as the child is over age 18. The professional team will consider the following:

  • The overall safety of the child
  • The age and developmental level of the child
  • The child's ability to meet his or her own needs
  • The child's relationships and the level of support the relationships will provide
  • Whether the case should remain open or whether the foster care case should be closed, and the child be released from care

If it is determined that the child is not safe on his or her own, the caseworker will follow the practice guidelines for a runaway child under age 18. If it is determined by the professional team that the child should remain in care, the caseworker will notify the AAG that a warrant will need to be filed with the juvenile court.

If it is determined that the child can meet his or her own needs and remain safe on his or her own, the caseworker will ask the AAG to file for an early review to close the case.