Any foster parent, social worker or case manager who has searched for a child who has run away from foster care knows the stress, fear, and anxiety associated with finding them.

Statistics shows that children run away from their foster homes at a greater rate than children living in permanent families. In November 2014, the United States Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families published a memorandum about serving youth who run away from foster care. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), approximately 402,000 children were in foster care in 2013, based on data reported by state child agencies to AFCARS. State agencies reported 4,500 of those children as having run away. The majority of those who were identified as having run away from foster care were between the ages of 12 and 17.

These statistics make some interesting revelations, including:

  • Most of the runaway foster youth entered care after they turned 12 years old.
  • Most children who run away from their foster care placement have been placed over 3 times.
  • Girls are more likely to run away from care than boys.
  • Runaways are more likely to be African American or Latino.
  • Most runaway youths (regardless of whether they ran away from their biological parents or foster parents) struggle with substance abuse and mental health issues.

Many studies featured in the Child Welfare Information Gateway pertaining to youth who run away from “out-of-home care” show that youth who identify as LGBTQ are more likely than their peers living in permanent care to run away from a foster care placement or be kicked out of their placement by their foster parent.

So what do you do if a child in your care runs away?

You may be fearful, scared, and worried when you find out a child in your care is missing or ran away. There are specific steps you can take to help get them home safe.

1. Contact Law Enforcement

It is most critical that you contact law enforcement immediately to report your child as missing. Make sure you answer all of their questions as specifically as you can. Remember when you last saw your child, share if they left a note, and report any identifying information that may prove helpful to their search. The first 48 hours are the most critical, so do not wait! Demand that your child be placed in the National Crime Information Center Missing Persons File. There is no waiting period for children who are under 18.

2. Contact a Private Investigator

My company, Trustify, will do pro-bono private investigator services and missing children investigations for families of missing foster youth. The private investigators on our platform work closely with law enforcement officers to help supplement their resources and immediately get on the case. They can spend unlimited time just on your missing child ensuring that they are brought home safely as quickly as possible.

3. Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) now must receive a report from states on each missing or abducted foster child due to the passage of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act enacted in September 2014. The Bringing Missing Children Home Act, a portion of the larger Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act enacted in May 2015, called for improvements related to record keeping and requires law enforcement agencies to notify NCMEC of every missing child from foster care. You can contact them directly and report a missing foster child at http://cmfc.missingkids.org/ReportHere.

4. Contact your child’s friends, classmates, and teachers

Your foster child’s friends, acquaintances, classmates, and teachers may have details that can help you find your child. They may have contact information on other youth who may have critical details on where your child could be and who they might be with. Talking to everyone in your child’s circle is critical in getting them home safe quickly. This is also information you can share with law enforcement officers and your private investigator.

5. Stay in close contact with your social services worker and/or case worker

Most of all, keep in close contact with your foster child’s social services case worker. They will be critical in helping you take the necessary steps in reporting them missing and helping you to get them home safe or to receive the care they need. Your social services caseworker will provide you with the support you need and help get your foster child back into the care of a loving family.