As reported by KY3 on October 5th 2021, Missouri state officials faced a grilling from Missouri lawmakers over a federal investigation that found nearly 1,000 foster children went missing in 2019.
During 2019, agents of the Office of Inspector General joined the Department of Justice and local law enforcement to locate children who were missing from foster care. Through this process, concerns from the OIG agents prompted an evaluation of whether the Missouri foster care agency followed Federal and State laws to protect foster children.
This evaluation was published to the Office of Inspector General website under the title, Case Study: Missouri’s Efforts to Protect Children Missing From Foster Care.
In this review, the Office of Inspector General followed the cases of 59 children. They determined whether Missouri provided these children with required services before and after their episodes of being missing, and whether the State followed requirements when the children went missing. The OIG review also evaluated if the 59 children showed any signs commonly associated with a higher risk of going missing.
During the OIG review, it was found that Missouri does not have policies for trying to identify children who may be at higher risk for going missing nor does it have interventions to reduce their risk. The majority of the 59 children whose cases were analyzed showed risk factors associated with a higher risk of going missing. Only 7 of those children indicated that they received services to reduce their risk of going missing from care.
When children were found to be missing from care, Missouri frequently failed to comply with requirements that could have aided in locating them. In nearly half of the cases, there was no evidence that these missing children were reported missing to local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
In many of these cases, there was no evidence that contact was made to seek information on the children’s whereabouts.
For many of these children, who returned to the care of the state of Missouri, there was no documentation that they received care after returning to foster care. There was no evidence that their case managers assessed their safety, determined their experiences, or determined whether they fell victim to sex trafficking while they were missing from care.
The OIG states that they learned that Missouri cannot rely on its case management system to accurately identify children who are missing from foster care without reviewing individual case files.
To better protect children in the care of the state of Missouri, the OIG makes a few recommendations. Missouri should develop policies to identify children who have a heightened risk of going missing from care. Missouri should develop interventions that could reduce children’s risk of going missing from care. Missouri should implement a monitoring mechanism to ensure that case managers comply with requirements and document their compliance when children are identifies as missing and when they are located or return to care. Missouri should implement improvements to the case management system to enable accurate identification who are missing from foster care.
In response to this review, the acting Social Services Director Jennifer Tidball told the House Children and Families Committee that there have been varying policies in place dictating how thoroughly social workers should document their actions, in an attempt, it seems, to say that state workers may have done more to protect the children but their actions just weren’t recorded.
She also stated that it was unclear how many of the missing children were staying with friend or family in an unapproved placement as opposed to custodial kidnapping or running away. This lack of nuance means that children may be assumed to be “safe” with a family member but in reality the state has no idea where they are.
Tidball said the agency is trying to crack down on documentation to better track the status of missing children.
|Articles & Websites|
|KY3 – State Officials grilled over report on missing foster kids across Missouri|
|Office of Inspector General – Case Study: Missouri’s Efforts to Protect Children Missing From Foster Care|