As I have begun an intended and unintended journey, the road is paved with potholes, sinkholes and wet cement. I was a missing child, as a result of running away from an abusive home. I share my personal story to raise awareness; awareness that runaways are not belligerent children, we aren’t drug addicts, we aren’t rebellious—we are children who have been abused either physically, sexually, and/or mentally.
The unintended road that I am now on is for the THOUSANDS of runaways that are running from foster care, most unreported, as well as for the ones who “simply” go missing from their biological families.
The potholes I stumble in and out of are the biological parents that reach out to me to share that their children are missing from foster care. Their background stories are left in the shadows. It's clear that they care where their children are and want them back. It's clear that they are lost in the system of authorities who aren't looking for them. Much of the time the parents find out that their children are missing because they are unable to communicate with them directly. They only find out that their child has "officially" disappeared when they reach out to the social worker entrusted with their child.
The wet cement is from the oceans of tears flowing from the souls of the children lost in the shuffle. These children are running from uncaring and abusive foster homes/group homes. Tragically, they are the perfect prey for human traffickers and the like. Few consider them to be vulnerable... back to the stigma attached to runways. Beyond the runaways are the children who simply disappear... possibly murdered by their foster parents or one of their relatives/friends.
The LOST are all of the foster children not reported missing... They are the faceless… No current photos exist to even begin to put together a missing poster… Not that their entrusted guardians are inclined to do so.
Required reporting: The time range for required reporting by social services after a child goes missing is between 15 minutes after a child's disappearance and by midnight the same day. Many times, the reports that are filed include only the name, age, and location with no photos. It is not unusual to have one report filed with multiple names of missing foster children in a district; basically, there is no requirement that the report includes details: where they were last seen, who with, etc. Just a name, a DOB, and an address, filed in a cabinet that serves as a bin for these throw away children.
The first time that I ran away and stayed out all night, I was held against my will. Had my captor chosen to keep me or kill me I still would have been considered as "just a runaway." The fact is that we can never be sure or take for granted that a child has "simply" run. We live in a world filled with predators who are targeting the most vulnerable children. Human trafficking rings operate for decades without detection. They do not operate at random. EVERY child needs to be reported immediately and considered endangered; we NEED to change our perception of children who run away. Trafficking needs to be fought on all fronts beginning at the victim supply.
The numbers; if we use Kansas as an example (they claim that the number of children they have missing from care is within the national average, as if that's a good thing) with 74 missing foster children and only 26 listed with photos on the National Center for Exploited Children’s website, it becomes quite clear that the gap is not only large, but also without a valid explanation. As the powers that be in charge of the foster children in Kansas explained away the number of children missing from their foster homes, a knot formed in my stomach. I am terrified that the public will find their answers acceptable. In a nutshell, they stated that their kids weren’t really missing in that "endangered or abducted" sort of way. They went on to state that many of these kids “simply” run back home or to other family members. Clearly if that were the case, they would not be missing. Their other statements—excuses—“You cannot keep a child under control and away from their friends and family” are ignorant and disgusting. ALL children want a place where they feel secure and cared for. Give a child a real home—especially with the contrast of the abuse they were likely taken from—and they will stay. Maybe not 100 percent of them but most of them, for sure. How do I know? I didn’t even last an hour in foster care before I ran—even with the knowledge of what the streets held at that time. I spent a week in juvenile hall (I was arrested for stealing food) and compared to the foster home, it was a cake walk. As for the attitude regarding these children being endangered, tell that to 15-year-old Stacy Duke, an unreported runaway from foster care... Her lifeless body was found strangled in a garage months later.
Most foster children have already been abused in unspeakable ways before being taken into “care.” Their abusers have groomed… created... the perfect victims for predators who await their arrival on the streets; or worse yet, are selecting them from the foster and group homes they are living in. It’s not difficult to woo a child who KNOWS they have no value with promises of love and safety. Sadly, the excuses and failures of the system are ignored as people are absorbed in their daily lives. If they look up it’s for an entertaining glimpse of the Trump and Kardashian “reality” shows. I’m learning this very quickly as people offer to help spread the word and then do nothing.
We are all paying for these children one way or another.
If we don't do something now we ALL pay later. Who do you think you are paying for on welfare? In juvenile hall… or prison? In rehab as a result of their pimps and street life? Why aren’t we investing in their childhoods so that they can become contributing adults to society? Looking beyond the money... why aren’t we protecting their innocence… their childhoods?
We need to come together and protect OUR children. Please sign and share our petition https://www.change.org/p/us-department-for-health-and-human-services-if-a-school-lost-1-child-every-week-what-would-you-do