Kids missing from DHS a problem, but overall number in custody a greater concern

August 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

Kids missing from DHS a problem, but overall number in custody a greater concern

The Oklahoman Editorial • Published: August 13, 2013

The Department of Human Services is tasked with caring for children who have been abused or neglected. Stories of children hurt or killed while in the DHS system resulted in recent restructuring and reforms at the agency.

But what about those children in DHS custody who run away? What can or should be done in those instances?

The Oklahoman reported Sunday that 78 children in DHS custody are missing. Nearly half of them have been gone more than three months, which a former volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocate program called “ridiculous.” She’s demanding more accountability. DHS officials who work in this area say there is accountability, but that keeping a child from running away is easier said than done. They believe none of those now missing were abducted, but instead fled of their own choosing.

If a child is abducted or determined to be at “high risk of harm,” immediate steps are taken to spread the word and seek the public’s help in finding the youth. For runaways, a different protocol is followed. It includes notifying law enforcement, the district attorney and the parents if they still have legal rights.

 The majority of children in DHS custody live in foster homes. Not many are in lockup, one agency official said, but instead “are in facilities where they can walk away.” According to DHS data, 56 of those missing are at least 16 years old. Eight are age 15; nine are 14. The remaining five are in the 10-12 age group.The former CASA volunteer contends that what’s required of DHS involving runaways and what actually transpires aren’t one and the same. DHS officials disagree. Perhaps a review of agency policy is needed.What’s needed most, though, is fewer Oklahoma children winding up in DHS. The 78 missing is distressing, but they comprise just a fraction of 1 percent of the 10,000-plus kids on DHS rolls.
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