Washington, D.C. — Thousands of American children entrusted to foster care have gone missing according to records published last month.
Based on a review of federal records by investigative reporters Eric Rasmussen and Erin Smith, more than 60,000 foster children in the United States are now unaccounted for and have simply been labeled as “whereabouts unknown”.
According to the report, child welfare agencies throughout the country have closed the cases of at least 61,000 foster children listed as “missing”, not counting an additional 53,000 children who are listed as “runaways.”
Further, the review found:
– Arizona and New Jersey allow child welfare workers to close a case if the child has been missing for at least six months.
– Illinois closed the case of a missing 9-year-old foster child in 2016. State officials said the case was closed after six months with court approval. Illinois said it opened a new investigation nearly a year later and found the child, who is now in foster care.
– Georgia eliminated its policy in 2016 that allowed the state to close the cases of children who are missing for a prolonged period. But officials there now admit to WSB that more than 50 cases of missing foster kids have been closed since that policy was eliminated.
– Many states have policies for what to do when a missing foster child returns to state care, but a vast number don’t specifically address what steps to take when a child remains missing.
– For years, Massachusetts DCF has been telling the feds it hasn’t closed a single case of a foster kid who’s missing, but researchers, child advocates and a review by 25 Investigates found otherwise.
Massachusetts DCF has confirmed it closes the cases on more than 800 foster children from its system every year when children in foster care turn 18, although the agency admits it does not track how many of those kids were missing at the time they were discharged.
Elisabeth Jackson, executive director of Bridge Over Troubled Waters in Boston, says many of the children reported missing are victims of sex trafficking.
“She was trafficked,” Jackson said of one 15-year-old girl who had been reported missing from foster care in New York. “She was being put in a prostitution ring and she didn’t even know it.”
A new federal law now requires all states to report missing foster kids to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C. area. But even now, the center admits that does not always occur.
“There are agencies out there that have been known to close these cases,” said Bob Lowery, vice president of the center’s missing children’s division, “And then, therefore, no one’s looking.”