Toolkit: Returns and Child Welfare


Collaborating to Safely Return Runaways when Abuse is Reported


juvenile sitting at a table talking to an adult


This Toolkit was developed to foster collaborations between state ICJ Offices, child welfare agencies (CWA), courts, law enforcement agencies, detention centers, and others. 

A primary purpose of the Interstate Compact for Juveniles (ICJ) is ensuring the safe return of juveniles who run away.  Adopted by the legislatures of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the ICJ is the law governing the return of runaways who cross state lines throughout the United States.

Unfortunately, many runaways have experienced abuse and/or neglect and may face further danger if returned to the home from which they ran.  Collaboration between ICJ Offices and child welfare agencies is essential to ensure their safety and well-being.  To promote continuity, relationship building among staff should lead to formal collaborations between agencies that will benefit juveniles now and in the future.  

A recent survey of state ICJ staff revealed they face significant challenges in approximately 40% of return cases where abuse is reported.  Common challenges include:

  • CWAs, law enforcement, and judicial staff lack awareness of the ICJ and its requirements;
  • ICJ staff lack of understanding about reporting requirements and CWA policies;
  • CWAs frequently decline to accept or “register” a report or open an investigation;
  • CWAs refuse to assist when guardians abandon juveniles (by refusing to take action to initiate return);
  • Many states lack clear policies or protocols for initiating ICJ returns, especially when the juvenile is unwilling to return (“involuntary return”); and
  • Many states lack appropriate facilities to house juveniles pending return.

For simplicity, the term “juveniles” is used throughout this Toolkit to refer to all youths (not just those who are accused or adjudicated delinquents). While many runaways have not been adjudicated and/or do not have ongoing relationships with a CWA, effective multi-disciplinary collaborations can reduce both the risk of harm to the juvenile and the risk of further systemic involvement.

State ICJ Offices needing additional support may click here to request assistance from the Commission. 

Published August 22, 2023. 

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