CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is adding a new unit to its Bureau for Children and Families.
The Child Locator Unit will consist of three staff members dedicated to the reporting and locating of missing foster youth. The unit was created during the 2020 legislative session.
As of October 6, the WV DHHR reports 45 foster kids are currently missing. The state wants to know why.
Child Locator Unit Program Manager, Michelle Dean said, “there’s a myriad of reasons that children run, whether they’re running to something or from something, but that is data we’re hoping to really get nailed down, to understand, it’s an important piece of information.”
To better understand the reasoning behind runaway foster children, the three staff members will gather data and information on each individual runaway case.
“It takes time… takes effort, and so our hope is that the child locator is really an assistant to that child welfare worker in sharing information and getting out there and knocking on doors, talking to any court officials that were involved in this child’s life, their family and also being someone the family can consistently reach out to,” said Dean.
Through the investigation, the program will take its findings and then develop tools and resources to prevent running in the future.
“That is one of our goals is to really work to reduce those numbers by having good preventative measures in place,” said Dean.
Washington and Texas have similar programs that have been successful in reducing the number of missing foster kids.
The Child Locator Unit can also provide more accurate data to support and implement future foster family legislation that can help create safer homes.
This unit is expected to be fully operational by January 2021, according to the WV DHHR.