Any time a child goes missing is a gut-wrenching moment. But when that child goes missing while in the care of others, it can be particularly devastating. While the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act was passed and is now in effect, understanding the resources available to help agencies and organizations can comply with it can be challenging.
- NCMEC’s Children Missing from Care initiative
- Reporting mechanisms to NCMEC and information requested
- NCMEC’s resources for missing child cases, short and long-term, in the context of children missing from care and child sex trafficking
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Leemie, you’re a new presenter for the Justice Clearinghouse community. Tell us a bit about yourself!
Leemie Kahng-Sofer: Thank you for having me! I’m excited to be a part of the Justice Clearinghouse community. I’ve been a long-time seeker of justice and an advocate for victims, in my capacity as a prosecutor for many years and then here as a member of the Missing Children Division at NCMEC. I’ve been with NCMEC for almost a decade and feel fortunate to be a part of its mission.
JCH: Could you tell us a bit about the NCMEC Children Missing from Care Initiative?
Leemie: Yes, would be happy to do so. NCMEC has had long-standing relationships with several state and county child welfare agencies around the country. We have received reports from various agencies throughout the years and utilized our resources to help child welfare and law enforcement agencies safely recover missing children. On September 29, 2014, federal legislation called the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, P.L.113-183 (H.R.4980) was signed into law. Among other things, it mandated state agencies to immediately report a child missing from their care to law enforcement and then to NCMEC. The law gave state agencies one year to develop policies to respond to missing children and a two-year period before mandatory reporting went into effect.
When that piece of legislation passed, we knew immediately that this was going to greatly impact the landscape of children missing from care as well as NCMEC’s role in it. We made significant efforts to prepare for an increase in reports and educate the child welfare community on our reporting processes and resources. NCMEC created a specialized microsite specific to children missing from care which hosts a great deal of information for case workers; we launched a brand new online portal to facilitate a fast and convenient mechanism for reporting by busy case workers; we created a Sound Policy Recommendation document which is currently housed on the microsite; we collected child welfare professional experts from various agencies to help create a training video; we made outreach to representatives of state and county agencies around the country; we launched a webinar series that has been running since 2015 and that I’ve conducted for child welfare professionals and law enforcement.
The webinar for the Justice Clearinghouse community is a slightly abbreviated version of this webinar series and is meant to educate caseworkers, service providers, law enforcement, and prosecutors about the breadth and scope of our resources.
We view those children to be at increased risk each time they go missing.
JCH: The thought of children going missing horrifies most of us. What do you think are the most common misconceptions justice professionals might have about missing children?
Leemie: I don’t know if this is a misconception per se, but it relates to children who repeatedly run away and is particularly important in the context of children missing from care. We view those children to be at increased risk each time they go missing. We treat them as endangered runaways who should be flagged for their risky behaviors, who should be recognized as more vulnerable because of their patterns of behavior. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize this in an already overburdened system, but the more they run, the longer they’re out there, the more they’re susceptible to being preyed upon.
I cannot imagine not trying to make a difference in the world,
in the lives of the most vulnerable and those who love them,
those who are seeking answers and justice.
JCH: You deal with an incredibly challenging, heart-wrenching topic. How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep doing what you do?
Leemie: Many people outside of this realm have asked me a similar question. How do you do what you do? My response has always been, how could I not? I cannot imagine not trying to make a difference in the world, in the lives of the most vulnerable and those who love them, those who are seeking answers and justice. Yes, we come across heartbreaking scenarios, sometimes unimaginable, but I’m always amazed and buoyed by the resilience of people. Although the losses are tragic, the prospect of saving one child is enough to keep me going.
Click Here to Watch "Federal Legislation Impacting Children Missing from Care and NCMEC Resources."