WASHINGTON — The 168 juveniles recovered last month during an FBI child sex trafficking bust included some kids who had never been reported missing, a population that law enforcement encounters often and that child welfare advocates say they're especially concerned about.
Advocates say the recent roundup and others like it reinforces the need for a standardized approach to report children as missing — especially those absent from state foster care systems who are most vulnerable to abuse.
State and federal efforts are underway to streamline how police are alerted when kids go missing.
Legislation pending in Congress would require child welfare agencies to alert police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has specialized response teams and other resources, within 24 hours of receiving information about a child's disappearance.
The current patchwork of state and federal policies has yielded what advocates describe as a fractured safety net with little accountability.
Though states may have policies directing child welfare agencies to report missing children to law enforcement, most don't have laws requiring that notification, according to the missing children center. That means children can disappear without police knowing they're missing or being directed to look for them.
Federal law does require law enforcement agencies to enter missing children into the National Crime Information Center — a database available to law enforcement nationwide — but that presumes police are provided the names or have specific enough details about a child.
The missing children center says it received more than 57,000 missing-child reports between 2009 and 2013, many of them considered endangered runaways. The center says 1 out of 7 endangered runaways reported to the center last year were likely child sex trafficking victims.