JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
A Missouri law that takes effect this week now includes foster children regardless of age, emancipated minors, homeless youth and unaccompanied minors in law enforcement's search for missing children.
The bill, which took effect Monday, also requires a child's parent or guardian, including the Missouri Children's Division, to report a child as missing within two hours of their disappearance.
The Missouri State Technical Assistance Team is a law enforcement agency that specifically handles children cases and helps find missing children in Missouri. Director Frank Tennant said this new change is good for the safety of children. He said even within the now two-hour time window, law enforcement may already need to search around 3,000 square miles.
"As a young cop, I heard it many of times, 'We don't take missing persons until they've been gone for 48 hours.' It's poppycock," Tennant said. "A missing kid, you don't wait."
The Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association supports the bill and thinks it's a step in the right direction after the inspector general previously reported almost 1,000 children went missing from Missouri's foster care system. ABC 17 News previously investigated Missouri's response to the report.
CMFCAA founder and president DeAnna Alonso said previously when it came to reporting a missing foster child, it didn't seem like law enforcement, Children's Division and foster care placements were on the same page.
"The communication wasn't consistent," Alonso said. "Now, everybody knows what the framework and the parameters are. Not that anybody did anything wrong, but in this case, no communication or crossed communication can cause our kiddos to be in harm's way."
Tennant said the State Technical Assistance Team works to eliminate confusion between social workers and local law agencies. He said he saw some instances where law enforcement would not search for foster children 18 or older.
"There was some ignorance involved, where they would say, 'Well, he's 18, he's an adult.' And he is an adult, but he was in state care," Tennant said. "They can keep them in state care until they are 21. But basically what the new statute changes is that we're not going to take a kid out of care until we know that he no longer needs care."
Tennant says the agency began working with Children's Division to locate missing foster children in 2022 after the inspector general report. Tennant said the agency helped find 614 missing foster children in 2022 and has found 460 missing foster children so far this year.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there are currently 689 active missing juvenile cases in the state of Missouri. Cpl. Kyle Green said while this new law will not speed up the actual investigation, it will allow it to begin sooner.
In an email, he said, "Law enforcement will continue to do everything they can to find that child as quickly as possible."
CMFCAA said this is an important bill because Missouri's young, vulnerable children need to be taken care of.
"This is just one more tool in the state's arsenal to make sure these children are safe," CMFCAA spokesman Gerry Tritz said. "Make sure that we know where they are and that they're safe."
Other measures on the bill include law enforcement cannot remove the missing child entry from its database until the child is found or the case is closed. Case managers are required to stay in contact with the missing child's family, friends and school monthly and make quarterly reports about the status of the child and efforts to locate the child.