CHILD WELFARE MANUAL

Section 4, Chapter 4 (Working with Children), Subsection 9 – Missing Person Report Procedure

Effective date:  09/11/20

4.9.1 Understanding Runaway Youth with a Trauma Based Focus

Children and youth in Children’s Division Custody are at risk for running from their placement whether biological, kinship, foster or residential placements. National data suggests that approximately 1% of children in foster care are on a “run status”. Youth who have experienced sexual or physical abuse, neglect, those between ages 12-18 years, and youth with behavioral health problems/histories are at highest risk for running. While on the streets, youth are at higher risk for perpetrating crimes, using drugs/alcohol, or being victimized.   This is also a vulnerable time for recruitment into human trafficking.

It is important to understand what may have precipitated the elopement. Some children will run away FROM something; some children will be running TOWARDS something. Running away is often a coping mechanism and impulsive elopements may be triggered by the child’s trauma history. Although steps should be taken to increase the safety of the child, applying punitive restrictions is likely counterproductive for youth who have trauma histories. The elopement may be driven by their perceived lack of safety, prompting the flight response. If punished, staff could be sending the message that addressing their safety concerns can lead to “consequences”. Rather staff should learn the precipitants/triggers for the youth’s elopement and focus on addressing those precipitants and as well as developing healthier responses and coping mechanisms.

Based on the above it is important to conduct a supportive assessment of the child’s time away from their placement as well as gain an understanding of what prompted the elopement so these factors can be addressed. Staff should make clear to the child that staff are glad they are safe and staff view their running away as a signal that their needs, particularly safety needs, may not be met. When conducting this assessment, provide the youth with some space and time to calm down before participating. The conversation should be held in a safe, relaxed, neutral, non-threatening environment. The questions should be open-ended, and feel relaxed and conversational, preferably conducted by someone with whom the youth has a rapport or trusts. If possible, allow the child to have others present if it would make them feel more comfortable. Staff should be caring, empathetic, sincere, nonjudgmental, and trustworthy. Youth need to feel they are being heard. The information obtained should be integrated into the child’s plan as well as the permanency plan.

Integration into Service Planning

First, any safety concerns while the youth was on run status should be addressed. For example: Is a medical exam needed immediately; if any illegal behavior towards the youth was experienced, does law enforcement need to be contacted? If there are any indicators of human trafficking does this need to be addressed from an emotional, medical and legal perspective?

Additionally, preliminary research has shown that incorporating the information garnered from this dialogue into the youth’s service plan can reduce the risk of running away and reduce the frequency of placement disruption. By understanding the cause of the behavior, changes can be made to support the child’s needs. For example, staff may have restricted access to family yet the child still desires a relationship with family members. How can staff ensure safety while still increasing family contact? If the child is attempting to avoid restrictions inherent in some placements or being in state custody, staff should assess the restrictions.

Risks for Runaway Youth

Children who have run away multiple times are at an increased risk for involvement in human trafficking. Traffickers prey on and target vulnerabilities in their victims in order to make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their victims. The following are common risk factors for trafficking in children/youth:

  • Being in foster care
  • Chronically missing or frequently on the run
  • History of childhood sexual abuse
  • History of physical and emotional abuse
  • Single parent home
  • Minimal supervision
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lacks a strong social network
  • Unsupervised online time
  • Seeks online friendships and connections
  • History of substance use issues or those living with someone with substance use issues
  • History of school truancy

4.9.2 Definitions

Missouri statutes 43.400 – 43.410, RSMo., contain provisions for reporting missing persons to the State Highway Patrol.

A missing child/juvenile is defined as “any person who is under the age of seventeen years, 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/juvenile may be considered missing if they meet one of the following characteristics:

  • If they have run away from the residence of a parent, legal guardian, or custodian;
  • If they are missing under circumstances indicating that the person was or is in the presence of or under the control of a party whose presence or control was or is in violation of a permanent or temporary court order and fourteen or more days have elapsed, during which time the party has failed to file any pleading with the court seeking modification of the permanent or temporary court order.

Anyone over the age of seventeen years is considered missing if they meet one of the following characteristics:

  • Is physically or mentally disabled to the degree that the person is dependent upon an agency or another individual;
  • Is missing under circumstances indicating that the missing person’s safety may be in danger;
  • Is missing under involuntary or unknown circumstances;
  • Is missing under circumstances indicating that the person was or is in the presence of or under the control of a party whose presence or control was or is in violation of a permanent or temporary court order and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person may be taken outside of the United States.

For general purposes, a foster child is considered to be missing or on run status as soon as their physical whereabouts are unknown to CD or their physical custodian. A foster child is under the care and custody of the CD and responsibility therefore lies with the CD staff, contracted service workers, and resource provider to ensure the safety and well-being to the best of their ability.

4.9.3 Runaway Child/Youth Protocol

When a child/youth in care is determined to be a missing or is abducted from an approved CD placement, the case manager should take the following steps.

  • Immediately notify law enforcement (no later than 24 hours) to file a “missing child report” or “missing person report”. Staff should try to refrain from utilizing language that they wish to report a runaway. Instead staff should focus language on the fact that the child/youth is missing from their placement and it should be stressed that the child/youth is in CD custody and that CD should be contacted as soon as the child/youth is located. In the event the placement provider made the initial report, staff should follow up with law enforcement to ensure all necessary information was provided by the placement provider, including staff’s contact information. Staff will also need the report number for making a report to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as described below.

Federal law requires law enforcement to take a report of missing children/youth under the age of twenty-one (21). If the local law enforcement agency refuses to take a missing child/person report, staff should contact the Missouri State Highway Patrol for assistance. This should be done by contacting the MULES trainer in the appropriate troop. Staff should explain the situation and ask the MULES trainer to assist by contacting the local law enforcement agency.

  • Notify juvenile officer, Guardian Ad Litem, and the child’s/youth’s parents as soon as possible, but no later than twenty-four (24) hours.
  • Submit a report to the juvenile office to request the court issue an order. The court order provides police or Division staff with the authorization to locate or detain a runaway child/youth as a delinquent.         

Not all circuits will issue an order. If the local court will not issue an 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 DLS referral form and make sure to include when the child/youth went missing, the last time CD received communication from the child/youth, and any available information about their possible whereabouts. Requests to release the child from jurisdiction should be made separately.

  • Contact family members, friends, counselors, school faculty or others who may have information about the whereabouts of the child/youth.
    • The worker should make ongoing contacts to attempt to locate the child/youth as long as they are missing from care.
  • Within twenty-four (24) hours, notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This is for any person under the age of twenty-one (21) missing from care. This can be completed by calling 1-800-THE-LOST or by completing an online report to NCMEC. The website for online reporting is: https://cmfc.missingkids.org/reportit and may only be utilized by staff. Staff will be required to complete an online account prior to submitting a report.

When reporting online, it is imperative that all fields be answered thoroughly and accurately.  To assist NCMEC in responding timely, the case manager’s name and contact information must be identified within the online report. 

When reporting to NCMEC, the case manager should be prepared to provide the following:

    • The child’s/youth’s case manager’s name and contact information;
    • Information regarding the law enforcement agency involved, including the report number, and assigned law enforcement officer’s contact information. When law enforcement refuses to take a report on a youth over the age of eighteen (18), NCMEC will still accept a report when provided with the officer’s name, precinct name, and date/time the report was attempted;
    • Descriptive information regarding the missing child/youth, including date of birth, height, weight, physical description (eye color, hair color, complexion, tattoos, piercings, etc.), clothing worn at the time the child/youth was last seen, medical and/or mental health conditions; and,
    • Details surrounding the circumstances leading to the child’s/youth’s missing status.
  • Update the child’s/youth’s Alternative Care Client Information screen in FACES within twenty-four (24) hours.
    • For traditional, Youth with Elevated Needs-Level A or Level B, and emergency foster care placements, enter the temporary location as RUN. If the child/youth is located before the 7th day, end the temporary location. If RUN status extends beyond the 7th day, the primary placement will automatically change to RUN on the 8th day.
    • For Youth with Elevated Needs-Level B or residential placement, maintenance payment continues through the 7th day from which the child/youth ran away in cases where the bed or placement will be held specifically for that child/youth. In this event, enter the temporary location as RUN. If the child/youth is located before the 7th day, end the temporary location. If RUN status extends beyond the 7th day, the primary placement will automatically change to RUN on the 8th day. Residential payments are not generated from the AC Client Information screen, SS-61, but for Level B placements the maintenance code, field 56, should be changed to “3 – No maintenance payment”.
  • Contact STAT for assistance in locating the child/youth if their location is truly unknown and local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to assist in attempting to ascertain the child/youth’s whereabouts.
  • Record all activities in FACES, including but not limited to:
    • Law enforcement reporting, and report number;
    • Attempts to obtain a court order;
    • NCMEC reporting;
    • Attempts to locate child/youth.

NOTE: Each time a child/youth is missing from their placement, the steps above must be completed.

4.9.4 Child/Youth Abduction Protocol

When a child/youth is determined to be missing and there is reason to suspect that the child/youth has been abducted, shall take the following steps:

  • Immediately notify local law enforcement that the child/youth has been abducted. The resource provider should contact local law enforcement and the child’s/youth’s worker if the child/youth has been abducted from their premises. Provide law enforcement the following information:
    • Description of victim and photo of child/youth if requested
    • Time, location and description of the abduction
    • If known, description of suspect including vehicle and direction of travel

Law enforcement will assess the individual case information and determine whether to issue a local or state-wide alert on the abduction. The Missouri Amber Alert system is an example of a state-wide alert.

  • Immediately notify direct supervisor, Circuit Manager, and Regional Director of child/youth abduction.
  • Notify juvenile officer, Guardian Ad Litem, and the child’s/youth’s parents as soon as possible, but no later than twenty-four (24) hours.
  • Submit a written report to the court of jurisdiction notifying them of the abduction and actions taken within one (1) working day.
  • Contact family members, friends, counselors, school faculty or others who may have information about the whereabouts of the child/youth.
  • The worker should make ongoing contacts to attempt to locate the child/youth as long as the child/youth is missing from care.
  • Within twenty-four (24) hours, notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This is for any person under the age of twenty-one (21) missing from care.  This can be completed by calling 1-800-THE-LOST or by completing an online report to NCMEC. The website for online reporting is: https://cmfc.missingkids.org/reportit and may only be utilized by staff. Staff will be required to complete an online account prior to submitting a report.

When reporting online, it is imperative that all fields be answered thoroughly and accurately.  To assist NCMEC in responding timely, the case manager’s name and contact information must be identified within the online report. 

When reporting to NCMEC, the case manager should be prepared to provide the following:

    • The child’s/youth’s case manager’s name and contact information;
    • Information regarding the law enforcement agency involved, including the report number, and assigned law enforcement officer’s contact information. When law enforcement refuses to take a report on a youth over the age of eighteen (18), NCMEC will still accept a report when provided with the officer’s name, precinct name, and date/time the report was attempted;
    • Descriptive information regarding the missing child/youth, including date of birth, height, weight, physical description (eye color, hair color, complexion, tattoos, piercings, etc.), clothing worn at the time the child/youth was last seen, medical and/or mental health conditions; and,
    • Details surrounding the circumstances leading to the child’s/youth’s missing status.
  • Update the child’s/youth’s Alternative Care Client Information screen in FACES within twenty-four (24) hours.
    • For traditional, Youth with Elevated Needs-Level A or Level B, and emergency foster care placements, enter the temporary location as RUN. If the child/youth is located before the 7th day, end the temporary location. If RUN status extends beyond the 7th day, the primary placement will automatically change to RUN on the 8th day.
    • For Youth with Elevated Needs-Level B or residential placement, maintenance payment continues through the 7th day from which the child/youth ran away in cases where the bed or placement will be held specifically for that child/youth. In this event, enter the temporary location as RUN. If the child/youth is located before the 7th day, end the temporary location. If RUN status extends beyond the 7th day, the primary placement will automatically change to RUN on the 8th day. Residential payments are not generated from the AC Client Information screen, SS-61, but for Level B placements the maintenance code, field 56, should be changed to “3 – No maintenance payment”.
  • Record all activities in FACES, including but not limited to:
    • Law enforcement reporting, and report number;
    • Notification to the court;
    • NCMEC reporting;
    • Attempts to locate child/youth.

4.9.5 Return of a Child/Youth

When a missing child/youth is located, the case manager must assess the factors that led to the child/youth being absent and to the greatest extent possible, address those factors in subsequent placements. The case manager should also determine the child’s/youth’s experiences while absent, including whether the child fell victim to human trafficking.

Indicators that a child/youth is involved in trafficking include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent runaway episodes
  • A heightened sense fear or distrust of authority
  • Unable to identify where they were while they were gone
  • Has material goods that he or she cannot afford:       expensive clothing, one or multiple cell phones, nails done, hair extensions, etc.
  • Physical injuries with no explanation of how they were received
  • Has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a history of STIs
  • Uses drugs and/or alcohol
  • Reports sexual assaults
  • Talks about a paramour, but does not provide their identity
  • Frequent unexplained absences or tardiness from school
  • Involved in gang activity
  • Appears fearful, anxious, depressed, tense, nervous, paranoid, or hyper vigilant
  • Has multiple cell phones
  • Has hotel keys or talks about staying in hotels
  • Has suspicious tattoos or other signs of branding
  • Inappropriate, sexually suggestive activity on social media, the internet, or cell phone apps
  • Associates and/or has relationships with age-inappropriate friends and/or paramours
  • Reports meeting someone online
  • A heightened sense of fear or distrust of authority
  • Reports multiple sexual partners
  • Change of appearance, such as revealing/provocative clothing and weight loss
  • Avoids answering questions or lets others speak for him/her
  • Answers to questions appear to be practiced or rehearsed

Identifying victims of human trafficking can be difficult. Some challenges may include the following:

  • They may not view themselves as victims.
  • They may not trust adults due to trauma they have experienced.
  • They may be concerned they will face legal consequences for their role in trafficking.
  • Their trafficker may have made threats to harm the child/youth, their family, and/or friends.
  • Traumatic bonding of the child/youth to their trafficker is often an influential factor that interferes with self-identification as a victim and in severing the child’s/youth’s relationship to their trafficker. Traffickers use power and control tactics to make their victims increasingly reliant on them for emotional and psychological needs. Children/Youth who are emotionally vulnerable due to a history of abuse/neglect are especially vulnerable to the tactics of traffickers.

When a runaway or missing child/youth is located, the case manager should complete the following:

  • Immediately assess the safety of child/youth.
  • Notify law enforcement, juvenile office, Guardian Ad Litem, the resource provider, the child’s/youth’s parents, and their attorney as appropriate of the child’s/youth’s return or recovery.
  • Notify the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) of the child’s/youth’s return.
  • Determine whether to:
    • Return child/youth  to the previous resource provider
    • Place child/youth in new or temporary placement
    • Place child/youth in a more secure or restrictive environment
    • Seek approval for non-traditional placement (i.e. friend of child/youth, older sibling, parents who rights are been terminated but continue relationship with child/youth.)
    • Arrange for a mental health screening.
    • Update the child’s/youth’s AC Client Information screen in FACES to reflect current placement type and begin payment or resume payment for pre-existing Level A or Level B home.
  • Within twenty-four (24) hours of the child’s/youth’s return, arrange for a medical examination.
  • Change residence code on child’s/youth’s AC Client Information screen in FACES to reflect current placement in order to re-enroll child in MO HealthNet.
  • Schedule Family Support Team (FST) meeting within 72 hours of child’s/youth’s return to address:
    • Safety concerns
    • Reason the child/youth ran away  (i.e. did not like the rules, placement issues, could not handle responsibilities in home, ran to be with friends, parents, others)
    • Additional support services the child/youth may need
    • Unexplored or non-traditional placements options
    • Potential changes in the child’s/youth’s case plan
  • Document in FACES all steps taken to:
    • Assess the child’s/youth’s experiences while absent
    • How the child’s needs were addressed upon return (i.e. medical examination, treatment needs, CAC, etc.)
    • Notify relevant agencies of the child’s return

It is important for FST members to consider case specific information when addressing these issues or making changes to the child’s/youth’s case plan. Members should consider the specific needs of the child/youth especially when considering alternative placement settings. Any child/youth age 12 or over should be included in the FST meeting.

Screening after a Child/Youth Returns or is Recovered

Federal law requires staff to determine the primary factors that contributed to the child’s/youth’s running away or otherwise being absent from care, and to the extent possible and appropriate, respond to those factors in current and subsequent placements. This law also requires staff to determine the child’s/youth’s experiences while absent from care, including screening the child/youth to determine if the child/youth is a possible sex trafficking victim. Therefore, once a child/youth is located, the case manager must talk to the child/youth about why they were absent from care and what occurred while they were gone.

Questions to ask include, but are not limited to:

  • What made you leave your placement?
  • Where did you go when you left?
  • How did you take care of yourself while you were gone?
  • Did you have money? How did you get money?
  • How did you eat?
  • Where did you sleep?
  • Who helped you while you were gone?
  • Did you have to do anything in exchange for their help?
  • Did anyone hurt you?
  • Did you do anything that made you uncomfortable?
  • Are you worried about anything that happened to you while you were away?

Chronic Run Away

Children/Youth who have run away multiple times are at an increased risk for involvement in commercial sexual exploitation. It may be appropriate to make a referral to the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) for a forensic interview of the child/youth, even if they have made no disclosure or provided information about involvement in trafficking. Local county offices are strongly encouraged to work with their CAC to develop protocols for assessing these children/youth.

Suspicion of Abuse or Human Trafficking

If a child/youth provides information that may indicate they were abused or involved in trafficking, the following must occur immediately, but no later than 24 hours after receiving the information:

  • The case manager must immediately contact the Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline Unit (CANHU) to make a report of child abuse and neglect. The case manager should inform the hotline of any suspicion of involvement in human trafficking.
  • The case manager should ensure that law enforcement is notified of the concern.
  • A referral to the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) should be made for a forensic interview to further explore the child’s/youth’s experiences in care if there is an indication the child/youth was abused or trafficked.
  • The case manager may contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or make an online tip report at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/report-trafficking .

4.9.6 Failure to Locate a Child/Youth

The first priority of the worker shall always be to locate a runaway child/youth and remedy the reasons that the child/youth has run. However, there may be individual cases where the Division may want to explore a request for release of jurisdiction from the court. All requests for release of custodial responsibility should be evaluated on a case by case basis by the case manager, their direct supervisor, and FST team members. During the FST meeting, there should be a thorough review of documented efforts and consideration of the following factors:

  • The age of the child/youth
  • The number and type of previous placements
  • The current and concurrent case plan
  • Whether TPR has or has not occurred
  • The child’s/youth’s progress and compliance in cooperating with the Division’s services
  • The child’s/youth’s run history (one time event verses chronic runs)
  • Whether the child/youth is running to a specific place or person
  • Is there an exit plan in place for the child/youth to provide on-going support? (See memorandum CD04-56 for details on exit planning)

It is important that a youth never be released from custody without an exit plan in place as it is our responsibility to ensure that youth leaving the foster care system either have support services in place or know how to obtain them as needed in the future. Non-compliance cannot be used as the sole reason to request termination of custodial duties by the Division. With this understanding, there may be rare situations where it is appropriate to request a release of jurisdiction when it is clear that there is a documented history of chronic and repeated non-compliance on the youth’s part to accept placements and services offered by the Division or in cases where the youth has been missing without contact for a minimum of twelve months. This does not include cases where the youth has run to a non-approved placement and remains in contact with the worker. Placement issues need to be addressed by the worker, youth, FST members and the court.

If the court of jurisdiction does not agree to a release of custody and the child/youth is not located, the worker should continue to:

  • Contact law enforcement, family, relatives, friends and all other contacts once per month in an effort to locate the child/youth for a minimum of six months;
  • Monthly cross check Family Support Division screens IPAR and IMES as well as Food stamps screen through FAMIS system on the FAPC screen;
  • If after six months, the child/youth is not located, continue to contact law enforcement, relatives and other contacts on a quarterly basis in effort to locate child/youth;
  • Continue to provide written summary to court on all actions taken to locate child/youth; and
  • Resubmit request for release of jurisdiction at all court hearings.

4.9.7 Considerations for Release of Jurisdiction – Youth 18 and Over

For youth over the age of 18 who have left their placement to an unapproved placement, staff should assess whether the youth needs to remain in care or if a request to terminate jurisdiction should be made to the court. Youth may also petition the court on their own behalf for release from care and information on the youth’s rights should be shared with the youth.

Requesting termination of jurisdiction from care should only be done after efforts have been made to engage the youth in services and safety can be assured.   This is not a one-time attempt but multiple attempts to engage the youth in services and assure safety. It will be important to share all efforts to assist the youth with the court if recommending termination of care.  

For youth over the age of 18 who have left placement and are in communication with Children’s Division or the Foster Care Case Management Agency, safety planning shall be done to include risk of human trafficking, mental health, and cognitive and developmental abilities. Whether or not to request release of termination should be based on the assessment and vulnerability of the youth. Staff shall assess the reasons for the youth’s elopement and if there are any possible solutions to address these reasons.

If a request for termination is made to the court and denied, contact, safety assessment and planning, and attempts to engage youth in services shall continue.

For youth over the age of 18 whose whereabouts are unknown, efforts shall continue to locate the youth as these youth are at high risk of human trafficking and may have other unmet needs that put them at risk for things such as homelessness. Documentation of efforts shall be made in the case narrative.

4.9.8 Missing Children/Youth Not in Care

Staff should report all children/youth known to be missing to law enforcement and NCMEC, not just those in the custody of the Division. 

Reporting missing children/youth not in care to NCMEC may only be done through the NCMEC hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.  For children/youth not in care, staff should only contact NCMEC if they are able to provide the name, age, address, and all identifying characteristics of the missing child/youth and the length of time the child has been missing. 

Staff does not need a signed release of information from the child’s/youth’s custodian in order to make a report.  Staff will be required to provide contact information for the child’s/youth’s legal guardian and information regarding the law enforcement agency involved, including the case number, and assigned law enforcement officer’s contact information. 

Staff should advise the child’s/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.