Rebecca Masterson: Our nation's foster kids shouldn't be invisible — here's one thing that must happen now

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Parents, do me a favor. Take a look at your phone and count up how many pictures you have of your kids.

I bet most of you thought, “please, I don’t have that kind of time.” I hear you. Of the hundreds of photos on my phone, I bet you over half are of my son. I’ve taken eight photos of my child since Saturday.

The girl in this missing juvenile poster (see below) had no one taking pictures of her. Because the girl in this missing poster was in foster care.

This child – I’m not even allowed to share her name — went missing this past November, yet there have been no fliers posted, no social media campaigns, and no local news coverage.

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None of these efforts can be made because there is “No Image Available.” There is not a single photo of this child to help the police find her.

I doubt I need to explain to you how dismal the chances of finding this child are when we have no idea what she looks like. Tragically, this isn’t an isolated case.

More than 18,000 children disappear from our nation’s child protection system every year. Every year.

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At heightened risk of disappearing are kids in group homes and/or who have moved multiple times within the foster system, and children with intellectual disabilities. In other words, the most vulnerable of our vulnerable go missing from foster care.

We don’t know what happens to these children because child welfare agencies are not required to report which children are missing when their files are closed.

What we do know is the majority of sexually trafficked children in the United States are from foster care. Predators know that children without stable families are easy prey.

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As child rights advocate and former foster child T. Ortiz Walker said, “No one looks for us. I really want to make this clear. No one looks for us.”

Federal law addressed this crisis in 2014 by requiring child protection agencies to report missing foster youth to law enforcement and to the National Center for Missing Exploited Children. This is a start, but many states fail to meet even this minimal requirement. And like the missing juvenile in the posting above, without a recent photograph, this mandatory reporting is essentially useless.

We can’t search for children who have disappeared from state care if we don’t know what they look like.  Every child in state care needs a photograph.

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The solution to this problem already exists in the form of state identification cards. Available in every state, ID cards should be available at no cost to every child in state care and mandatory for children in congregate care and group homes. Just like a driver’s license, the ID card has a photograph that, in an emergency, can be linked to all state and national databases with the click of a button.  

This year, Arizona bill SB1019 has been introduced to turn this common-sense solution into law. Every state can enact similar legislation and make “No Image Available” a thing of the past for our nation’s foster kids.
 

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