KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A recently released federal report claims the Missouri Department of Social Services Children's Division doesn't protect children who go missing from their foster homes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General released a report that examined the handling of 59 missing child cases from foster care.
"The Missouri foster care agency rarely attempted to reduce children’s risk of going missing. Additionally, it failed to protect children who went missing from foster care and did not effectively use resources to assist in locating them," the report said. "As a result, these children were exposed to additional risks associated with being missing from care."
In 2019, 978 children went missing from foster care in the state at some point.
The child support system's attempts to find them were not found to be satisfactory.
"During the times in which the children were missing from care, Missouri frequently failed to comply with requirements that could have aided in locating them," the report said.
Of the 59 cases studied for the report, the department also noticed a stark lack of documentation that the children were being looked for at all.
"Nearly half of the case files contained no evidence of Missouri reporting the children as missing, as required, to either local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children," the report said. "Additionally, for many missing children, there was no evidence that Missouri made the required notifications and contacts to seek information on the children’s potential whereabouts."
And, there was no evidence that the children were checked in on after they were found.
"For one in three of the children whose cases we reviewed, there was no documentation that the child received any required health and safety checks following the child’s return to foster care," the report said.
The investigation into Missouri's practices began after agents from the OIG reported concerns about the cases, after joining investigations to find missing children.
Now the report has made several recommendations to the department.
One is that the department develops policies to both identify children at higher risk of going missing and intervene in their situations to decrease that risk.
It also recommended that checks be put in place to ensure case managers comply with requirements about documenting the status of children and improve the system for identifying which children have gone missing.
A response from Missouri's department is included in the report. The statement mostly agrees with the recommendations made by the OIG, but did note that there are times when law enforcement and the state highway patrol will not accept their reports that a child is missing.
The department said this may have resulted in staff being "discouraged" from documenting the child's case.
The report ended by recommending the federal department support Missouri in its journey to implementing new standards and meeting requirements.