Responding to Youth Missing From Foster Care - West Virginia

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Protocols for Reporting Children Missing From Care to Law Enforcement

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

From the policy manual: When a child is missing, abducted, or is on runaway status, it is vital that information is reported quickly to law enforcement agencies to ensure the child's safe return. The Department of Health and Human Resources requires foster care providers to provide notification to the department immediately when a child runs away, is missing, or is abducted. When notified that a child is missing, abducted, or is on runaway status, the department worker is required to provide notification to law enforcement immediately, and in no case later than 24 hours after receiving information on missing or abducted children, for entry into the National Crime Information Center database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The department worker must notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) within the first 24 hours as well.

The child's worker must take the following steps to ensure that the child is located safely and quickly:

  • Contact law enforcement immediately, but no later than 24 hours, to report the child is missing, has been abducted or has run away
  • File a runaway petition or missing person's report, if one has not been filed by the provider
  • Provide law enforcement with any information needed to locate the child, including a recent photo to assist in the identification of the child
  • Cooperate with law enforcement completely to locate the child

The worker then must contact NCMEC also within 24 hours. The worker should have the following information ready and available to report to NCMEC:

  • The child's full name
  • The child's date of birth, gender, height, and weight
  • The date child went missing
  • The city and State from which the child went missing
  • Guardian information, including agency name and telephone number
  • Law enforcement information, including agency name, telephone, and police report number

Additional information that may be requested by NCMEC, if available, include the following:

  • Physical descriptive information (e.g., hair and eye color, clothing worn)
  • Any risk or endangerment to the child
  • Circumstances surrounding the incident
  • A description of any person who may be with the child
  • A recent photograph of the child

Protocols for Locating Children Missing From Care

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

When a child is missing, the child's worker must do the following:

  • Notify the child's birth parents, if parental rights have not been terminated, immediately about the child's situation
  • Immediately notify their immediate supervisor and community services manager
  • Notify the court, guardian ad litem, or attorney for the child

Workers should consult with their immediate supervisor and community services manager to consider additional options in locating missing children, while keeping the child and family's foster care status confidential.

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

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

Once the child has been located, the worker will complete the Away from Supervision/Runaway Event Survey to determine the primary factors that contributed to the child's running away or otherwise being absent from care.

Determining the Suitability of Current and Subsequent Placements

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

To the extent possible and appropriate, the child's worker must respond to the factors that contributed to the child's running away in current and subsequent placements.

Assessing the Child's Experiences While Absent From Care

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

Once the child has been located, the worker will complete the Away from Supervision/Runaway Event Survey with the following information:

  • Determining the child's experiences while absent from care, including screening the child to determine if the child is a possible sex trafficking victim
  • Reporting such related information as required by the department
  • Based on the child's experiences while away from supervision, scheduling appropriate evaluations or exams

The worker will notify law enforcement, NCMEC, and court of the child's return immediately but in no case later than 24 hours.

Timeframes for Closing a Child's Placement After Running Away

Citation: DHHR Foster Care Pol. Man. § 5.20

If a child or youth has been away from supervision of the agency for more than 180 days and cannot be located, the department must seek a modification of disposition order releasing the department of care, custody, and control. If the rights of the child's parent have been terminated, the department cannot be released from its responsibility and must actively seek the whereabouts of the missing child or youth.