State agencies aren’t always properly reporting missing foster care kids, says OIG report

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The state agencies responsible for making sure foster kids are kept safe aren’t always properly reporting when children in their custody are missing, according to a new watchdog report.

The report from the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said state agencies aren’t always following the proper federal reporting requirements.

State agencies are required to report missing foster children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) within 24 hours of the agency learning the child is missing.

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According to the report, it’s estimated states did not properly report around 69 percent of missing foster kid cases from July 1, 2018, to December 31, 2020.

“State agencies generally lacked adequate systems to readily identify whether or not they had reported missing children episodes to NCMEC accurately and in a timely manner,” the report said. “State agencies that do not properly report missing children episodes to NCMEC increase the risk that the children may not be safely and swiftly recovered.”

Some cases were reported late, while others weren’t reported to NCMEC at all.

“These children face many endangerments while they’re missing,” said Jon Bischoff, Vice President of NCMEC’s Missing Children Division. “Whether it be risks of online enticement, child sex trafficking, physical or sexual abuse.”

The report calls on the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) to work with state agencies to make sure they’re meeting the federal reporting requirements.

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In response to the report, HHS said it agrees with the recommended changes.

“ACF’s mission is to strengthen the safety and wellness of children and families,” wrote Amy Frontz, Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “We take our duty to keep children safe very seriously. ACF’s Children’s Bureau (CB) provides a variety of services and supports to the child welfare field to improve practices and achieve better outcomes for children, youth, and families. CB has planned various activities in the current fiscal year that will support State agencies in maintaining compliance with Federal requirements to report missing children episodes to the NCMEC in a timely manner.”

“All we want in the end is to find these children and keep them out of harm’s way,” said Bischoff.