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Audit: States Failing to Screen Missing Foster Children for Exploitation

A federal audit suggests that some states are failing to screen missing foster children when found, to determine whether they were sexually exploited, Stateline writes, in a piece that looks at where the practice falls short. Overall, “states lacked a mechanism to ensure that screenings were conducted,” said Brian Whitley, Health and Human Services regional inspector general, who called the findings “alarming.”


A 2014 federal law requires state authorities to screen missing children for exploitation. But last year an audit by the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found no evidence of a screening in 65% of the 413 case files of returned children between 2018 and 2019. The audit focused on the five states with the highest reported number of runaway or missing children: Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Texas. When caseworkers did screen children who had been missing, according to the audit, the workers sometimes relied on the kids themselves to say whether they had been victimized — a practice deemed unreliable because children often don’t disclose or even understand what they’re experiencing.


Stateline concluded that, while all states are bound by the federal law, the existence of a state mandate increases the chances that a child will be screened, especially since the federal law doesn’t specify what the screening should entail.

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