Winnipeg police, Child and Family Services agencies agree on new protocols to help find missing kids in care

The Winnipeg Police Service hopes a new way of tracking kids who go missing while under the care of Child and Family Services will make it easier to find them. The agencies now make some phone calls before reporting a child missing.

CFS case workers now doing more 'legwork' before reporting youth as missing to Winnipeg police

Winnipeg police Insp. Kelly Dennison says police will still track every child reported missing, but a new arrangement with Child and Family Services will provide better intelligence for police before they start looking for them. (Novikov Alex/Shutterstock)

The vast majority of missing persons calls to Winnipeg police — 80 to 90 per cent — involve kids under the protection of Child and Family Services. But the police service hopes a new agreement with those agencies will bring that number down.

An agreement with the police service and CFS agencies now directs case workers to do a little digging — what one missing persons police inspector calls "legwork" — before creating a missing persons file.

"Just simply check to see, does this missing youth have a cellphone? Did you phone that cellphone? Did this missing youth give you any indication of where they're going? Have you checked their social media? Are they on Facebook posting something from Portage Place?" says Winnipeg police Insp. Kelly Dennison, who works with the service's missing persons unit.

"What we are anticipating is if you do that legwork first you are going to locate them before you have to phone and report them missing."

Officers in the missing persons unit recognized there was a problem with dispatching uniformed police to find those kids, some of whom are reported overdue from foster or group homes as many as 15 times, according to Dennison.

Those kids may have missed a curfew and aren't where they're supposed to be, said Dennison.

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"If they are going missing 15 times, are they really missing? Or are they at Portage Place? Or at Polo Park? Or at a friend's house? What we are asking of our partners is to do a little bit of that legwork before they phone and report them missing to us."

'Is every child who misses a curfew missing?' says Insp. Kelly Dennison. A new protocol with CFS agencies may help police determine whether a child is actually missing faster. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

He adds the mission hasn't changed for officers in the missing persons unit — but how they accomplish their task has been refocused.

Case workers now have a checklist they should go to before calling police. Calling parents and grandparents or friends is on the list.

Dennison stresses these are broad guidelines that will help, but don't take away from the concern that some of these children are vulnerable to exploitation. Police will still make every effort to find the children as soon as the call comes to them, he said.

But as the inspector in charge of special investigations — including the missing persons and child abuse units — Dennison said the extra effort may help overtaxed police get results faster.

The Province of Manitoba issued a statement to CBC News setting out the parameters of the two-month-old agreement.

"Winnipeg Police Services and Child and Family Services have worked together to create and bring in policy and procedures that support each organization and ultimately children in need," the province's statement said.

"The two organizations have clearly defined what is a missing child and this ensures front-line CFS staff are clear on when a child or youth is missing as opposed to absent briefly, under reasonable circumstances."

The Progressive Conservative government is planning legislative changes to the Child and Family Services Act.

Dennison said the new protocols are so fresh it is hard to measure their impact. Early indications from the first month show a drop of approximately 15 per cent in missing persons reports. 

The police service has received a high level of co-operation from CFS agencies on the agreement, he said.

"They took our recommendations and ran with it."