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Missouri's Department of Social Services is designed to improve the well-being of individuals, families and communities. It's a hugely important job. But perhaps nothing it does is more important than its role in protecting children.

That's why it's so disheartening to see a scathing new report that the department failed to sufficiently reduce children's risk of going missing from the foster care system and frequently failed to notify local and federal authorities they were missing.

That's according to a story we recently published by the Missouri Independent, a nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

The U.S Department of Health Human Services Office of Inspector General issued the report last week. It said the Department of Social Services' Children's Division policies and case management systems resulted in missed opportunities to prevent foster children from going missing in the first place, the story reported. It said when children were found, the state appeared to do little to prevent them from going missing again.

The report emphasized what should be a given: Missing foster care children often experience adverse outcomes, including heightened risk of being inducted into sex trafficking.

The report cited instances in which several children had used drugs, a few became pregnant and one was sex trafficked while missing, the Missouri Independent reported.

The news agency said a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The department did give an official response to the feds, saying Children's Division staff have historically had trouble convincing some local law enforcement agencies to accept reports of missing youth, particularly for teens 17 years and older.

That "may have discouraged (Children's Division) staff from providing appropriate notice or appropriately documenting such notices in the past," wrote Jennifer Tidball, the department's acting director.

She noted alternative protocols had been developed with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to address the issue.

That doesn't begin to convince us the problems are in the past.

We encourage Gov. Mike Parson and our state's elected officials to study the issue and work with the Department of Social Services to ensure such large-scale failures don't continue. Children's futures, even their lives in some cases, are at stake.

News Tribune

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