Study Sheds Light on Why Nebraska Children in Out-of-Home Care Go Missing

Feb. 9, 2022, 3:37 p.m. ·

Man and a woman bending down and hugging a small girl in a dress who is looking back and smiling.
(Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels)

A new report hopes to shed light on why Nebraska children placed in out-of-home care go missing and what can be done to prevent it.

On June 20, 2020, 3% of Nebraska children placed in out-of-home care were officially reported as missing persons, 2% higher than the national average at the time.

That’s according to an analysis by the state’s Foster Care Review Office, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice of a previous study that found most missing persons in the state at the time were minors.

Monica Gross of the Review Office says the inspiration for the analysis came from a long-noticed and well-documented relationship between out-of-home placement and youth who go missing.

“We wanted to understand what the prevalence of those, the missingness among those children and kind of what might be some of the underlying causes," Gross said.

Heather Wood is a research director with the office and says the study served several purposes, including identifying why children placed in out-of-home care go missing.

“But more importantly, when children do go missing, what practices are in place to look for to be able to find, to be able to offer support and services both to the child as well as any families involved or other caretakers involved once they would come back from that missing status," Wood said.

Placement instability and a lack of services for children with mental health or substance abuse disorders were found to be major factors as to why children in out-of-home are more likely to go missing.

Gross says she’s already briefed several organizations in the foster care system about the results, including child advocacy centers, juvenile probation, and The Department of Health and Human Services.

She adds those involved expressed enthusiasm for continued talks.