Missing Youth Subject of “Brown Bagger” Meeting 1/151/9 01/15/19 10:10:40 AM
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From left, Nick Juliano, Lt. Tracy Scherer, Sarah Hayek and Hon. Doug Johnson kick off the New Year with the first 2019 Youth Impact! Brown Bagger on January 9. (Photo by Lorraine Boyd)
Missing Youth Subject of 'Brown Bagger' Meeting
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
January’s “Brown Bagger” lunch meeting was a full house, covering one of the hottest topics facing law enforcement today.
PromiseShip Family Engagement Manager Sarah Hayek and Omaha Police Lt. Tracy Scherer shared the latest information on the new Missing Youth Initiative in Douglas County.
They emphasized that many “missing” youth are runaways, but all are treated with the same diligence.
Repeat runaways invariably get into criminal activity and/or are victimized, Scherer said. But it is only when they enter the juvenile justice system that the various youth services organizations and/or the courts have been able to intervene officially. Until then, kids are returned to their homes, often to repeat their behavior until they land in the system.
“It’s terrible to say that we have rooted for repeat runaways to get arrested, but that was the only way we could get them help,” Hayek said. Her emphasis is on 13- to 17-year-olds.
With growing concern, both police and youth organizations sought a way to intervene before that happened.
They convened a Runaway Task Force concentrating on prevention.
“We’re still in the infant stages, but it’s a start,” Lt. Scherer said.
Three months ago, Project Harmony applied for and won a grant, hired a coordinator and now reaches out to the families of runaways, offering free services. In their first three months, they have reached out to approximately 250 families, with 35 of them actively receiving help. Heartland Family Services just received a grant as well for a similar system.
Heartland Family Services is one of the six organizations that make up PromiseShip; the others are Boys Town, Child Savings Institute, Nebraska Family Support Network and OMNI Behavioral Health.
Hayek defined a missing youth as someone who is “unable to be located” and said a concerned person should call 911 no longer than two hours after the youth is missing.
This does not mean that they are necessarily in danger, but still must be located. She explained who should call – the child’s caregiver or the last to see them – and they should be able to supply all the information needed, demographics and descriptions as well as known places where they could have gone.
Sometimes the missing youth has just gone to a friend’s house and forgot to tell anyone or something innocent like that. But all must be investigated.
She emphasized that one person at PromiseShip is designated to be responsible for everything about that missing person.
The Task Force tracks incidents, Hayek said. Sometimes a repeat runaway, perhaps one in foster care, says they ran away simply because “I’m just done with it.”
With the new initiative, they can better address those issues and bring them to satisfactory conclusions. They also work with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Department of Health and Human Services. Instead of periodic “check-ins,” they are now conducting consultations with staff and youth-driven groups.
They are also using social media to communicate with “missing” youth when they are located but refuse to come in, establishing a conversation that can lead to a solution.
Instead of putting pressure on the youth, Task Force members ask what they can do to help. Sometimes alternate placement is possible for them to feel safe.
These steps, and more, are being introduced to bring more cases to resolution. Not all missing youth are runaways, some are victims of trafficking, especially sex trafficking.
Sherer emphasized that sex trafficking is happening everywhere, often in plain sight. And it includes males as well as females.
She urged the public to know the telltale signs of a trafficked victim. Not all are physically held hostage. Many are kept under their captor’s thumb with money and gifts and even a place to stay while they are on the run. Some even insist that they are there of their own volition. But she emphasized if they are underage, they are being victimized.
Sherer said additional training with the National Runaway Safeline, the Nation’s federally designated hotline and online service for runaway and homeless youth, is being planned.
The “Brown Bagger” noon meetings, open to those in the juvenile justice field and any other interested parties, are held quarterly in the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center. They are co-sponsored by Judge Doug Johnson of the Douglas County Separate Juvenile Court and Nick Juliano of Boys Town.
The next “Brown Baggers meeting” is April 10 at noon in the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center. The topic is “Impact from Infancy: Focus on the First Five Years and Impact a Lifetime” with speakers Carrie Strovers, Melanie Anderson, Katie Hansen and Susan Walsh, all from Project Harmony.