Children's Voice Oct/Nov 2005

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Giving More than 15 Minutes

(Adapted from Children Missing from Care: An Issue Brief, by Caren Kaplan)

The needs of a child who has been recovered, and the needs of his or her foster and birth families, are often immediate and complex. Over the years, workers have assumed that once a missing child is returned, a comprehensive plan falls into place to support the child and those affected by his or her absence. Research has shown, however, that in 80% of the recoveries of all missing children, only an average of 15 minutes is devoted to the recovery process, with no psychological or social service support provided. The system needs to be improved.

The child welfare agency should respond much like a concerned parent, attempting to understand the reasons a young person has run, and ensuring the child is able to access appropriate services. Workers should provide supportive assessment services to each runaway youth who is found and returned to foster care to explore the reasons for running and identify the need for possible mental health intervention to prevent further running. In addition, workers should provide any follow-up mental health services needed by children and youth returning to care following a runaway episode or abduction.

Finally, the child welfare agency should increase its level of monitoring and support to ensure satisfactory return and adjustment to reentry. Both child and family service workers and fam-ily foster care workers should increase contact with the foster child and foster family during this transition. This increased contact should provide both support and careful monitoring of child safety and the stability of the placement. This should include more frequent phone contact, visits to the foster home, and other types of support as necessary and desired. The agency should remain vigilant for potential red flags as they pertain to the child, the child's living situation, and the larger environment in which the child lives.

Children and youth missing from care are at considerable immediate and long-term risk. Effective prevention, response, and remediation of these absences require a collective, inte-grated effort by the child welfare and law enforcement communities, as well as other social, health, and educational agencies, and the community at large.

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