Over a month after Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Louisiana Department of Social Services are still working to locate 174 foster children from New Orleans
who remain unaccounted for – – and are trying to handle new cases of children entering its foster care program as a result of the hurricane.
In the days following Katrina the state Department of Social Services (DSS) partnered with the National Center to help with the tough task of matching up children with their relatives.
In addition to those cases, the state DSS is trying to locate nearly 200 foster children who likely evacuated during Katrina and remain unaccounted for.
The 300 employees of the nonprofit National Center have handled 26,106 phone calls related to Katrina and Hurricane Rita. As a result 4,309 children have been reported missing by adults, with 3,964 – or nine out of ten – coming from Louisiana. In all 1,265 children have been recovered or their cases resolved.
In the last weeks the agency has determined that most of the children reported missing are most likely “displaced,” said Robert O’Brien, director of the agency’s Missing Children’s Division.
The web site features three children who are looking for parents. Many of the children reported missing are likely with another family member, according to 2theadvocate.com. With an evacuation of 411,000 people over 48 states, children are likely to fall through the cracks, it said.
In the early days the state agency and the nonprofit were able to reunite 50 children with their parents, according to Marketa Gautreau, assistant secretary of the Office of Community Services, a division of DSS.
The number has dwindled to one girl and two boys and stayed consistent for at least a week.
Louisiana has ten children in its foster care program as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Other children have ended up in foster care in other states because of the evacuations across state lines. In Texas 22 Louisiana children are in foster care. One child is in state custody in Pennsylvania and one is in Missouri.
In addition to children looking for their parents, officials at DSS are also trying to locate 174 foster children from New Orleans who evacuated and now are missing. The remainder of the nearly 2,000 foster children who had to evacuate from the New Orleans area have been located.
Still the search continues at the National Center.
O’Brien, 60, is a former FBI agent with 33 years experience. In the case of the missing hurricane children, he supervises a team of 46 former law enforcement officers who made child matters their specialty.
The agency was founded in 1984 by John Walsh, producer of “America’s Most Wanted.” His son was killed in Florida in 1981.
The group has established a toll-free hotline, 1-888-544-5475, and has been receiving one million hits a day at missingskids.com.
Outside of O’Brien’s office he has hung a picture of a child being reunited with its family.