Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - Washington

Date:

Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

From the DCYF policy manual: Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), Children's Administration (CA) staff are required to respond when a youth is missing from care (MFC). The response includes the following actions:

  • A run report must be filed with law enforcement (LE) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) when a youth is MFC. CA staff cannot give NCMEC consent to release a child's information.
  • Caregivers must be informed of the requirement to file a run report with LE and contact NCMEC when a youth is MFC. Caregivers must be informed they cannot give NCMEC consent to release youth information.
  • The caseworker must document the LE run report number in a case note. If the caregiver did not file a run report or contact NCMEC, the caseworker must immediately contact LE to file a run report and obtain the LE run report number and contact NCMEC to make a run report.
  • LE and NCMEC must be contacted for a youth remaining on the run at age 18 to terminate the run report.

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

When a youth is MFC, CA staff are responsible for the following:

  • Active and ongoing efforts must be made to locate a youth who is MFC within 24 hours of notification and until the youth returns to out-of-home care.
  • When a youth is MFC overnight or longer, the case must be staffed with a supervisor within 2 calendar days, excluding weekends and holidays.
  • An attorney must be requested for a youth who is MFC overnight or longer, if the youth does not have an attorney.

When a youth is MFC, CA staff must do the following:

  • Notify individuals or agencies important to a youth within 24 hours of learning the youth is MFC, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • The legal parent or guardian
    • Relatives
    • The child's attorney, court-appointed special advocate, and guardian ad litem
    • The child's school
    • The child's therapist
    • The child's Tribe, if applicable
  • Make ongoing search efforts to locate the child beginning within 24 hours of learning the youth is MFC and continue until the youth returns to care. Ongoing outreach and search efforts may include, but are not limited to, the following locations, individuals, and entities:
    • Bus stations
    • Youth centers
    • Family members' and friends' homes
    • Places the youth may frequently be found
    • School
    • Homeless shelters
    • Available agency databases
    • Probation/parole officers, if applicable
  • Communicate with family, friends, and known associates
  • Search social media websites
  • Notify the regional MFC lead within 48 hours of learning a youth is MFC

The caseworker must conduct an MFC staffing with the supervisor within 2 calendar days (excluding weekends and holidays) for a youth MFC overnight or longer. The MFC staffing includes the following:

  • Search strategies and efforts
  • Protective factors and vulnerabilities of the youth
  • Individuals contacted
  • Potential reasons the youth ran
  • Determining if the youth needs an attorney appointed
  • Determining if a pick-up order and warrant are needed
  • Discussing if a court hearing should be scheduled

If a court hearing is scheduled, the following areas must be discussed:

  • Placement problems or whether no appropriate placement options are available
  • Additional services needed to support or stabilize the youth
  • Search and run prevention that have occurred
  • Any efforts to locate the youth

The caseworker must document the following in a monthly case note until the youth returns to out-of-home care or ages out of care:

  • Continued efforts to locate the youth
  • Any contact with the youth
  • Other critical information obtained related to the youth's health, safety, or whereabouts
  • Any follow-up action taken since entry of the prior case note

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

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

At the MFC staffing, the caseworker and the supervisor will discuss potential reasons the youth ran.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

The run prevention plan is developed using information gathered from the youth during the returning debriefing interview and should focus on the following:

  • Services or activities that the youth needs to help him or her stay in care, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • An increase in family time or other safe, positive social connections
    • Independent-living skills
    • Medical visits
    • Substance use disorder treatment
    • Behavioral health services
  • Interventions that could prevent the youth from running from care, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Alone time
    • Time to visit with friends
    • Listening to music
  • Creating a list of individuals that youth will reach out to if they have a desire to run in the future
  • Talking to youth about what they are feeling during the 'need to run' moment

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

When youth return to care, CA staff must do the following:

  • Notify LE, NCMEC, and other individuals important to the youth's case within 24 hours of the youth's return to out-of-home care
  • Assess and address any identified health or safety concerns and assist the youth in accessing appropriate care within 24 hours of the youth's return to out-of-home care
  • Conduct a debriefing interview with the youth within 2 calendar days (excluding weekends and holidays) of the youth's return to out-of-home care, as follows:
    • Evaluate the youth for health and safety concerns and assist with appropriate care and safe placement
    • Discuss the youth€™s interest in re-establishing connections with their birth family, including parents, grandparents, and siblings, including discussing skills and strategies to safely reconnect with any identified family members, and provide guidance and services to assist the youth
    • Develop a run prevention plan or review and update an existing run prevention plan with any new relevant information with the youth
  • Complete the CSEC Screening Tool DSHS 15-476, as required by the Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) policy

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: DCF Child Welfare Policies, § 4550

The youth's dependency must continue while he or she is on the run until his or her 18th birthday, at which time the caseworker must request to dismiss the dependency, unless the youth enrolls in extended foster care.