Federal Report Criticizes Missouri Foster Care System

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's child welfare agency does not properly report children who are missing from foster care and does not follow protocols designed to ensure that foster children who are found do not go missing again, according to a federal report issued Thursday.

The report from the federal Office of Inspector General also said Missouri needs to implement policies that would identify children at risk of running way and for intervention to reduce the risk.

The federal agency said it closely studied 59 cases of children who were reported missing from foster care in Missouri. Of those, 49 children had a high risk of going missing but only seven of the children received services from the state's Department of Social Services to reduce the risk.

The investigators also found that in 23 of the 59 cases, there was no evidence of family visitation plans, which are required by Missouri policy and significantly reduce the chance of a foster child running away.

Case files showed that in half of the cases, no evidence existed that Missouri reported the children as missing to either local law enforcement or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is required by state policy and federal law, the report said.

"Federal law requires Missouri to develop policies that require case managers to aid in locating children who have gone missing from foster care," the report said. “Although Missouri developed these policies, the documentation we reviewed showed that case managers often did not follow them.”

Investigators also found that in 36 of the 59 cases, there was no evidence that case managers notified adults such as the juvenile officer, court representative or parents that the child was missing, which is also required by state policy.

Forty-one of the 59 children were returned to foster care, with the other 18 removed from foster care custody. Case files for 13 of the 41 who returned showed no evidence the children received any required health and safety checks.

The federal agency recommended that Missouri develop policies to better identify children who are at risk of going missing and interventions to reduce the risk. The state also should better monitor case managers to ensure they are following requirements and improve systems to more accurately identify foster children who are missing.

In a letter attached to the report, Jennifer Tidball, acting director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, agreed the agency would develop policies to identify children at risk of going missing and interventions to reduce the risk.

The state also has developed procedures to ensure social services staff document that they have notified law enforcement and others when foster children go missing, according to the report.

Missouri also agreed with the federal recommendation to improve its system to provide accurate identification of children who are missing and is currently evaluating changes to address the recommendation.