- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2017

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says she has redoubled efforts to find and help missing children and runaways, but she still asserts that the city isn’t facing a crisis of vanishing youths.

“We don’t have a particular or unique problem when it comes to missing children,” Miss Bowser said Wednesday at a press conference. “But we have made the very intentional decision to talk about it differently, to publicize it differently and to address it differently.”

The mayor noted the near-completion of six initiatives, including adding more police officers to the Child and Youth Services Division, expanding posts on social media about missing children and partnering with Sasha Bruce Youthwork to offer 24-hour housing to runaways who need a haven to connect with social services.

She said the publicity campaign for the initiatives already is working, with nonprofit partners reporting that they are receiving more calls from runaways seeking assistance.

In addition, a working group has convened over the last six weeks to offer suggestions beyond the six initiatives, including offering more government services to runaways to figure out what’s causing them to leave home in the first place.

“That will help us understand how many kids are leaving because of conflict in the home or [they] felt unsafe in their home environment,” Brenda Donald, head of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, said at the press conference. “We want to make sure that we’re responding [in] the right [manner] because our goal is to move upstream, so we’re doing more prevention and intervention so the kids don’t run in the first place.”

Currently, missing children who are found are returned to their families before they are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The new system, which likely will start in the next two months, will offer a more “systemic response,” Ms. Donald said. Sasha Bruce will expand its capacity so a runaway can get a shower, a meal and start the process of figuring out what help the children need.

“The goal is to reunify with families, if that’s appropriate — to establish that ongoing support system and to also work with their families,” Ms. Donald said. “The families suffer when the kids are missing.”

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine hailed the working group’s recommendations to establish a coordinated government response to missing children cases rather than simply returning found children to their families without further help.

“Our kids should never be in situations where they feel unsafe, and we must come together to disrupt and prevent the violence and trauma that afflict our most vulnerable young people,” Mr. Racine said.

Metropolitan Police statistics back up the mayor’s claim that there hasn’t been a spike in missing children since Miss Bowser started publicizing cases in January. The number of missing juvenile cases mostly has dropped over the last five years.

In 2012, 2,610 juveniles were reported missing. That number dropped to 2,249 in 2016. Five months into this year, 885 children have been reported missing, putting the city on pace to end the year slightly below last year’s total.

So far this month, 106 juveniles have been reported missing. Similar reports for the first four months of 2017 range from 180 to 212.

Of the 11,582 reports of missing juveniles over the last five years, only four cases remain unsolved. So far this year, 28 cases remain unsolved; most of those were reported in the last few weeks.

Miss Bowser said the lion’s share of cases are resolved within days or weeks, and there is no indication that a high rate of abductions is occurring.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there were about 465,676 missing children cases across the country in 2016. Of the 20,500 cases the group assisted law enforcement with last year, about 90 percent were runaways and 1 percent were nonfamily abductions.

Meanwhile, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is pushing a bill in Congress that would require the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to collect and publish demographics of missing children, including race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“There has been an increase in public awareness in the District of Columbia and across the nation of the often underreported issue of missing children, particularly African-American girls,” Ms. Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, said Tuesday on the House floor.



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