Children are placed into the child welfare system and ultimately into foster care for a number of reasons; among them are physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Regardless of the reason they are placed, children may be unhappy about their placement, angry and confused about their separation from their families, have difficulty trying to cope with trauma, and as a result run from their foster homes. These children are extremely vulnerable to victimization and are at greater risk for exploitation due to the vulnerabilities of living on the streets.
Children missing from foster care need to be located as quickly as possible. The longer and more often children are on the streets, the greater the risk of victimization and exploitation. Studies have shown that 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 have run away or are homeless in the United States. Researchers have estimated that nearly 300,000 American youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year. A coordinated response by child welfare and law enforcement is crucial to retuning these missing children home safely.
This month’s MECP Newsletter focuses on children missing from foster care. The first article provides an important resource that contains vital information for law enforcement and child welfare professionals who work on cases involving children missing from the foster care system. The second article, provided by TC Cassidy, MPA Director of Technical Assistance with the National Safe Place Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center, highlights the connections between runaway and homeless youth and youth in foster care. To close out this month’s newsletter, MECP provides current resources available for those working on missing and exploited children’s issues.
Children Missing From Care: The Law Enforcement Response
The search for all missing children, especially those missing from foster care, requires a prompt and coordinated response. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s “Children Missing From Care: The Law Enforcement Response”is a publication for law enforcement and child welfare agencies that provides resources for strengthening the collaboration between law enforcement and child welfare agencies for a more effective response to recovering children missing from foster care. This document provides a self-assessment for law enforcement agencies, tools on developing and enhancing approaches, and recommendations on preventative efforts to deter future children from going missing.
The Intersections of Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) and Youth in Foster Care
Provided By: TC Cassidy, MPA Director of Technical Assistance National Safe Place Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center
The numbers tell the story of the intersection between Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) and youth in the foster care system. According to Runaway and Homeless Youth Management Information System (RHYMIS) data (9/30/11 – 9/30/12), 1,644 youth entering emergency shelters (Basic Center Programs) funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Family and Youth Services Bureau, reported they had been in some type of “system” placement. During the same time period, the National Runaway Safeline reports that 248 youth callers identified themselves as being either foster care or juvenile justice system “wards” and an additional 358 youth identified themselves as “former wards” of these systems. National Safe Place data indicates that during this same time period 59 youth indicated they were “AWOL from another agency”; 1,099 indicated they were runaways; and 1,066 indicated they were homeless.
In addition to the number of youth entering the Runaway and Homeless Youth service system that are or have been involved in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, the RHYMIS “living situation at exit” reports for the same time period indicate 2,795 youth exited Basic Center Programs to either a system of care or a residential program.
With this large number of youth crossing the foster care, juvenile justice and runaway and homeless youth systems, it is imperative that the systems work together to ensure the immediate safety needs of youth are addressed while working toward reunification with the family and/or the system of care from which the youth ran away. In addition to requiring programs to notify parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of youth admitted to a Basic Center Program, the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) mandates that all FYSB-funded RHY programs have written policy and procedures for reconnecting youth that have run from foster care and correctional institutions. National Safe Place expects that every local agency operating a Safe Place program will contact the parent or legal guardian of the youth when a youth is transported to a local shelter as a result of Safe Place efforts. The National Runaway Safeline is an anonymous service that allows youth (and family members) to access services and supports without identifying themselves by name and/or exact location but does work with youth to help them access shelter, partners with Greyhound to operate the Home Free Program to help youth return to their custodial parent/guardians home, and works to help youth re-build connections with foster care and juvenile justice systems if/when the youth indicates they have run from one of those systems.
All of these youth serving systems work together to meet the needs of runaway, homeless and street youth in many ways including: co-presenting at conferences; developing resource cards for at-risk youth with contact numbers for National Safe Place and National Runaway Safeline; National Safe Place and National Runaway Safeline assist youth in connecting with local Basic Center Programs and other emergency shelters; Basic Center Programs and National Safe Place Network organizations work closely with local communities, law enforcement, juvenile justice and child welfare providers to ensure RHY and their families have access to all needed services in an efficient manner; etc. RHYTTAC provides training and technical assistance to these organizations to strengthen local, community-based efforts to effectively serve the RHY population.
It is the interoperability of programs such as National Safe Place, National Runaway Safeline, FYSB’s network of more than 300 Basic Center Programs, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center, child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program that provide a safety net for some of our country’s most vulnerable youth. Increasing positive outcomes for runaway, homeless, and street youth is dependent upon these systems sharing both expertise and resources and it is this collaborative effort that continues to result in RHY receiving high quality care and support to reunite with family and/or system of care to achieve social-emotional well-being.
If you would like more information on runaway and homeless youth please visit the RHYTTAC website at www.rhyttac.net and/or email TC at [email protected]
Youth Count!: Process Study Release
On July 30, 2013, researchers from Urban Institute presented findings from their process study of the Youth Count initiative to identify promising practices to produce credible and useful data on youth homelessness nationwide. Youth Count! is a Federal interagency initiative that aims to improve counts of unaccompanied homeless youth. Nine communities participated in the initiative by expanding their annual homeless point-in-time efforts to increase coverage of homeless youth. The panel of researchers also discussed implications for future counts of unaccompanied homeless youth. To learn more about the program or view an archived video of the panel, email [email protected]. Findings from the process study are available for download at: http://www.urban.org/counting-homeless-youth/.
Below is a list of recent resources provided by OJJDP on issues affecting the well-being of children.
- OJJDP Coordinating Council Meeting on the NAS Report “Reforming Juvenile Justice: A Developmental Approach”
- AMBER ADVOCATE SUMMER 2013
- Report Assesses Well-being of American Children
Crimes Against Children Conference: August 12th – 15th, Dallas, TX Presented by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department.
MECP’s Training Center
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Request Training and Technical Assistance from MECP
MECP offers training and technical assistance tailored to meet the specific needs of state, local and tribal law enforcement, nonprofit organizations, and other juvenile justice practitioners. For more information on how your agency or organization can receive training and technical assistance on missing and exploited children’s issues, please contact MECP at 1-888-347-5610 or [email protected]. To submit a request for training and technical assistance, please complete a training and technical assistance form.
We Want to Hear From You!
MECP invites you to share your stories about your organization’s contributions to the juvenile justice field. It is our goal to expand awareness about all the issues surrounding missing children and child exploitation as well as increase understanding of the impact of your work — its value for practice, policy, ongoing research, advocacy and more importantly, for youth, their families and their communities. We’d also like to promote networking opportunities so organizations across the country can connect with one another.
Help others by sharing your success story. The most captivating will be featured in our monthly newsletter. To submit your story, please visit us online here. Thank you for all you do to make a positive difference in our children’s lives.
 Hammer, H., D. Finkelhor, and A. Sedlak, National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children: Runaway/Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2002).
 Estes, R.J., and N.A. Weiner, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Executive Summary (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2001).
 This data was gathered from RHYMIS “living situation at entrance” records and includes the following categories as “systems” placements: Foster Home (667 youth); Group Home (211 youth); Job Corps (30 youth); Drug Treatment Center (48 youth); Residential Treatment Center (74 youth); Other Agency Residential Program (52 youth); Other Residential Program (64 youth); and Correctional Institution/Detention Center (498 youth). Standard Reports may be obtained at https://extranet.acf.hhs.gov/rhymis/custom_reports.jsp.
 This data was supplied by the National Runaway Safeline supplied this data upon request based on statistics gathered from their call center logs. The NRS staff indicated this number could increase considerably as youth that have run away from a system of care are often reluctant to disclose this information on an initial crisis call to NRS.
 National Safe Place organizations do not specifically report on the number of youth that have runaway from foster care or other “systems” placement therefore it is likely that some of the youth reporting their presenting need as “runaway” or “homeless” were also runaways from foster care and/or juvenile justice placements. This data was supplied by National Safe Place via the data collection and analysis system it utilizes.
 This data was gathered from RHYMIS “living situation at exit” records and includes the following categories as “systems” placements: Foster Home (1,024 youth); Group Home (611 youth); Job Corps (54 youth); Drug Treatment Center (126 youth); Residential Treatment Center (225 youth); Other Agency Residential Program (95 youth); Other Residential Program (134 youth); and Correctional Institution/Detention Center (526 youth). Standard Reports may be obtained at https://extranet.acf.hhs.gov/rhymis/custom_reports.jsp.