Data: Black children make up huge chunk of Ohio’s missing

16% of Ohio youth are Black, but 61% of state’s missing kids are Black

Thousands of kids in Ohio are reported missing each year, but Black children are far more likely to vanish, their whereabouts unknown, according to this newspaper’s analysis of data provided by the state.

As of mid-February, about 803 Ohioans who were under the age of 18 when they disappeared were still missing, according to data provided by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

More than 61% of the missing children were Black, according to data for which the race of the individual was known. Black children account for roughly between 15% to 16% of Ohio youth, according to Census estimates, and the state says about 17% of Ohio’s K-12 students are Black.

The information comes from the National Crime Information Center, though it is not a comprehensive list of all missing persons cases, the Attorney General’s office said.

Most missing kids are runaways, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the overwhelming majority are found and recovered safely, sometimes within hours or a few days.

But police officials say kids who go missing are vulnerable and face real dangers, even when they willingly decided to run away, and some end up being victims of violence, criminal exploitation and trauma, or they may abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in risky behaviors.

Even labeling missing kids as “runaways” can be harmful because law enforcement might devote fewer resources to finding them, said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation Inc., which is a national nonprofit. Members of the public might not be as concerned or sympathetic about their disappearance and fail to understand how much danger they could be in.

“It has a trickle-down effect: If you are classified as a runaway, you do not receive an Amber Alert ... and we know awareness is key to finding a missing person,” Wilson said. “The perception is the child is getting whatever they deserve because they left home voluntarily.”

Police must follow investigative steps that consider factors that put a missing child at higher risks of danger, like their age, their medical needs, their developmental status and whether they are drug dependent or could be in the company of adults who endanger their welfare.

Most found safely

Ohio law enforcement agencies submitted about 16,330 missing children reports in 2020, says Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s most recent Missing Children Clearinghouse report.

More than 97% of missing children were recovered safely by year’s end, the report says, but nearly 450 kids still had not been located.

In 2020, there were 334 missing kids reports filed in Butler County, 81 in Warren County and 20 in Preble County.

Most kids who go missing are runaways, who leave their family homes, foster care, treatment facilities or other housing situations without permission and stay away overnight or sometimes much longer, police officials say.

Black children are placed in foster care more often than white kids, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and some research says kids in foster care are more than twice as likely to run away as children living with their families.

In 2013, Trotwood police responded to call from a woman who reported her daughter missing.

The woman said her daughter left home without permission and refused to return, and authorities learned she was staying with her biological father.

When police talked with the girl, she was hysterical and told officers she lived in constant fear of her mother and was scared for her life and worried she would face severe punishment if returned to her care.

Police said they found considerable evidence substantiating the girl’s claims of abuse, and the courts eventually awarded temporary custody of the girl to her grandmother.

Local police agencies say they take steps to ensure that missing children who are found are returning to safe living environments.

Police in Dayton and other communities make sure to talk to the juveniles outside the presence of their parents or guardians, and officers try to get to the bottom of why the kids ran away and what kind of help they might need.

Gone away

Running away can be a cry for help, or a red flag that something is wrong at the children’s home, but that’s not always the case.

Many kids flee their homes, foster care or other residential settings because they were angry or upset, often after getting into a fight with members of their household or staff members, law enforcement officials say. Kids sometimes run away after fairly minor disputes, like they were grounded or had their phones or personal electronics taken away as punishment for bad behavior.

Every case is different, but Wilson, of the Black and Missing Foundation, said law enforcement, the community and the media play important roles in helping locate and safely recover these kids.

Wilson said media coverage matters, because it alerts the community that a child is missing and puts pressure on law enforcement to devote more resources to finding them.

She also said there are differences in reporting systems.

Some agencies around the country require the child to be missing for a certain amount of time before a report can be made, which means valuable time is lost, she said. She said she wishes all agencies would allow people to immediately report a missing child.

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