Effective date: 8/28/23
4.8.1 Understanding Runaway Youth with a Trauma Based Focus
Compared to the general population youth in foster care are at increased risk of running away or going missing. Running away is often a coping mechanism. Youth run FROM things like abuse/neglect, bullying, and overwhelming stress. Youth also run TOWARDS things like siblings, family, friends and perceived safety. Engaging with the youth to understand their underlying feelings and unmet needs is critical to preventing the first and subsequent run episodes.
Individual level factors associated with youth running away:
- A previous episode of running away
- Alcohol/drug use
- Mental Illness
- Suicidal or self-harm behavior
- Likely sex trafficking victimization
- Possible gang involvement or carrying a weapon
- History of pregnancy
Placement level factors associated with youth running away:
- Separation from siblings
- Placement in congregate care settings (residential, groups homes)
- Placement in non-relative foster homes
- Repeated entries in foster care
- Frequent changes in foster care placements
Risks for Missing or Runaway Youth
Youth who leave their placements are at greater risk of using substances, being involved in criminal activity, being truant or dropping out of school, sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Youth who have run away multiple times are at an increased risk for human trafficking. Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to get another person to provide labor or commercial sex. Traffickers prey on and target vulnerabilities in their victims in order to make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their victims.
Risk factors for child/youth trafficking:
- Current or past involvement in the child welfare system
- Chronically missing or frequently on the run
- Family rejection due to Identifying as LGBTQOA+
- Family issues such as drug use, child maltreatment or minimal supervision
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of social supports
- Academically off-track, truancy, or learning disabilities
Missouri statutes (RSMo) 43.400 – 43.410 contain provisions for reporting missing persons to the State Highway Patrol.
RSMO 43.400(1) defines “missing child” or “missing juvenile” as “any person who is under the age of eighteen years or who is in foster care regardless of the person’s age or who is an emancipated minor as defined in Section 302.178, a homeless youth as defined in Section 167.020, or an unaccompanied minor as defined in Section 210.121, whose temporary or permanent residence is in the state of Missouri or who is believed to be within the state of Missouri, whose location has not been determined, and who has been reported as missing to a law enforcement agency.”
A child or youth in foster care is considered to be missing as soon as their physical whereabouts are unknown to CD or their physical custodian. It is the responsibility of CD staff, contracted case managers, and resource providers to ensure the youth’s safety and well-being to the best of their ability.
4.8.3 Missing Youth Protocol
When a youth in foster care is determined to be missing the case manager shall:
- Immediately, but no later than two (2) hours, file a missing child complaint with the appropriate law enforcement (LE) agency.
- Document the LE agency name and phone number, report number, and the name of the person taking the report in the electronic case record.
- The placement provider has the authority to make the initial report to law enforcement, 210.795 RSMo. Oftentimes they are the first person to become aware a youth is missing and can most efficiently and effectively initiate the report. In the event the placement provider makes the initial report, the case manager should follow up with law enforcement to ensure all necessary information was provided, including the worker’s contact information.
Note: In addition to state statute, Federal law requires law enforcement to take a report of missing children/youth under the age of twenty-one (21). The missing child’s entry shall not be removed from any database or system until the child is found or the case is closed. If the local law enforcement agency refuses to take a missing child/person report, staff should contact the Missouri State Highway Patrol for assistance. Troop information can be found at https://statepatrol.dps.mo.gov/. Staff should contact the appropriate troop and request to speak to the MULES trainer. Staff should explain the situation and ask the MULES trainer to assist by contacting the local law enforcement agency.
2. Within two (2) hours, make a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
- Reports are made to NCMEC by phone at 1-800-THE-LOST or online at https://cmfc.missingkids.org/reportit
- NCMEC requires a photo of the youth in order to publish the missing person poster online. If a photo is not available at the time of the initial reporting to NCMEC one must be provided as soon as possible.
- Document the report number and the name of the person taking the report in the electronic case record. Contact their supervisor and circuit manager/agency director to notify them of the missing youth and seek guidance.
3. Contact their supervisors and circuit manager/FCCM agency director to notify them of the missing youth and seek guidance.
4. Within 24 hours, inform and obtain information about the child’s disappearance from the child’s parents, known relatives, out-of-home caregivers, attorney, guardian or Guardian ad Litem (GAL), court appointed special advocate (CASA), juvenile officer (JO), Indian tribe (as applicable), or any other person known to the department who may have relevant information regarding the child’s disappearance, 210.795(3) RSMo.
5. Within 24 hours, request a Capias Order, commonly referred to as a “Pick-Up” Order, from the juvenile court. The order should contain after-hours phone numbers for whomever CD desires to be called when the youth is located. This order alerts law enforcement to the fact that a youth is under the court’s jurisdiction and is missing. The order gives law enforcement instructions to return the child to CD. The juvenile office may have the ability to enter the order into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES) or the JO may need to be sent to a law enforcement agency for entry. Without this order being entered into MULES law enforcement may not have knowledge that the child is in foster care.
Note: If the juvenile officer will not request a capias order staff should make a referral to the Division of Legal Services (DLS) to request assistance in filing for an order. Staff should utilize the standard DLS case referral form and be sure to include when the youth went missing, the last time CD received communication from the youth, and any available information about their possible whereabouts. DLS information and forms are located on the DSS Intranet at https://dssintranet.mo.gov/dls/
6. Within 24 hours, update FACES to reflect a new temporary location of RUN.
- When RUN is entered as the temporary location, there will be an additional placement detail drop down box related to the youth’s whereabouts. Choices are: Unknown, Known, or Abducted. Known is selected when the youth has been located but is living in an unapproved setting. When selecting ‘Known’, the system requires a physical address where the youth is living. (See additional information below.)
- Due to Treatment Foster Care (TFC) placements being listed under temporary location, RUN status must be entered as a second temporary location.
- If the youth is located before the 7th day, end the temporary location. If RUN status extends beyond the 7th day, the system will automatically update the primary placement to RUN on the 8th day.
7. Within 3 business days, complete the Missing Youth Notification (CD-308), upload to OnBase, and email to CD.MissingYouth@dss.mo.gov.
8. Within 3 business days, and at least monthly thereafter, consult with their supervisor to: review the efforts to locate the youth thus far, ensure all statutory requirements have been met, check for documentation in electronic case record, and develop next steps to locate the youth.
9. Within seven (7) calendar days, and monthly thereafter, contact the youth’s family members, friends, school faculty, service providers and any other person or agency involved in the youth’s case. All contacts should be documented in the electronic case record.
10. Every seven (7) calendar days until the youth is located, contact law enforcement to inquire about their search efforts and obtain any new information they have collected. All contacts should be documented in the electronic case record.
11. As needed, search available databases including but not limited to benefits provided through Family Support Division (SNAP, TANIF) and MO HealthNet/Show-Me Healthy Kids; search other public records and social media accounts; and request a TLO search from your circuit designee.
12. As needed, contact the State Technical Assistance Team (STAT) for assistance in locating missing youth or for assistance with local law enforcement. Learn more about STAT at https://dss.mo.gov/stat/
13. Quarterly, make reports to the juvenile court on the status of the youth and efforts to locate the youth.
4.8.4 Youth in Known but Unapproved Placements
There are times when a youth leaves their approved placement, informs the caseworker of their location, and the worker is able to verify the location and safety of the youth.
When a youth is residing in a known but unapproved placement, the worker shall:
- Notify the supervisor and circuit manager/FCCM agency director of the youth’s whereabouts and seek guidance.
- Within 24 hours of learning the location of the youth:
- Conduct an in-person visit at the youth’s location/temporary residence to assure their safety and offer resources and supports. If the youth’s situation or environment is deemed unsafe, consult a supervisor for guidance.
- Notify members of the Family Support Team of the youth’s whereabouts.
- Update FACES Alternative Care Client Information and include the physical address of the youth.
- Within 3 business days, hold a Family Support Team (FST) meeting to discuss the youth’s desired placement, supports and services that may be needed, and next steps.
- Monthly, meet in person with the youth in their residence to assure their safety and offer resources to support their well-being.
Youth in known placements are not considered missing, therefore they do not need to be entered into databases for missing persons and the CD-308 is not required.
4.8.5 Return or Recovery of a Missing Youth
- Immediately, utilizing available information and multi-disciplinary team members, determine any urgent medical or mental health needs and make arrangements to ensure safety.
- Within 24 hours after youth is located:
- Make in-person contact with the youth to assess for safety, immediate medical or mental health needs, experiences while absent, the appropriateness of the youth returning to a previous placement, and factors that contributed to the youth’s absence.
- Make arrangements for medical exams or mental health assessments as deemed necessary by the youth’s circumstances while missing.
- Screen for human trafficking using the Human Trafficking Assessment Tool (CD-288). If trafficking is disclosed or suspected to have occurred: notify law enforcement, make a referral to the Child Advocacy Center (CAC), and make a report to the Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline (CANHU). For more information regarding Human Trafficking, please refer to Section 4, Chapter 4, Sub-Section 4.6, Special Populations – Human Trafficking.
- Notify law enforcement, NCMEC and all members of the FST of the youth’s return.
- Update the youth’s AC Client Information screen in FACES to reflect current placement.
3. Within three (3) business days after the youth is located, hold a Family Support Team (FST) meeting to discuss supports and services to prevent future episodes and potential changes to placement and case plan.
4. Document in FACES all activities and decisions related to the youth’s return.
5. As needed, make a referral to the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) for a forensic interview of the youth, particularly if the youth has a chronic history of running away as they are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.
4.8.6 Failure to Locate a Youth
Pursuant to 43.401.3 (RSMo) the missing youth’s information shall not be removed from any database or system until the youth is found or the case is closed. The Division shall not petition the court for release of jurisdiction for the youth or stop searching for the youth while they are missing until the youth reaches the age of twenty-one (21).
4.8.7 Missing Child/Youth Not in Children’s Division Custody
Within 24 hours of becoming aware that an emancipated minor, homeless youth, or unaccompanied minor is missing, Division staff shall make a report to law enforcement and NCMEC (210.795.5 RSMo).
Reporting missing youth not in care to NCMEC may only be done through the NCMEC hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
Staff do not need a signed release of information from the youth’s custodian in order to make a report. However, staff should make efforts to advise the youth’s guardian of the legal reporting requirement prior to making a report to NCMEC. NCMEC will contact the legal guardian for follow up information and coordination.
Staff should be prepared to provide NCMEC with contact information for the youth’s legal guardian and information regarding the law enforcement agency involved, including the case number, and assigned law enforcement officer’s contact information.
Related Practice Points and Memos:
08/23/2023 – CD23-26 – Missing Youth Legislation and Protocol
11/03/2023 – PA23-CM-08 STAT Involvement with Missing Youth