Runaway children, regardless of custody, shouldn’t be overlooked

08/07/2014 6:25 PM

08/07/2014 6:25 PM

The figure on Troost Avenue was shadowy, but Iyonna Burrell knew it was her daughter.

“You can see when it’s a child’s body, even when they are in the distance,” she said, recalling the bitterly cold night in early January when she found 14-year-old A’Kiera Burrell-Sledge. A’Kiera ran away from a south Kansas City adolescent behavioral center in late November.

This is an update to a column on her about the lack of public urgency for children who disappear while in state custody or from treatment centers.

A’Kiera had called her mother asking for money and clothes. She’d phoned before, after fleeing Crittenton Children’s Center, reassuring that she was fine. But always from a private number. This time she agreed to meet.

Burrell alerted police. She waited more than an hour before A’Kiera appeared, looking thin and exhausted. She grabbed her daughter, held her tight. A’Kiera struggled to escape, but police swooped in, helping to subdue her.

Why, her daughter asked, did you do this? Because, the mother said, “I have to get you off the streets.”

A’Kiera has never told her mother details. She’ll only admit that she’d stayed with two older men.

The most persistent voices normally pleading for missing children are parents. But when a child runs from a foster home, one that is less stable, or if they are in state custody, sometimes there’s no one to appear anguished and tearful on the evening news.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children publicizes a child’s disappearance when a report is entered by police into the National Crime Information Center database. But with children under some form of state custody, a juvenile court usually needs to issue a pickup order. The delay can waste valuable search time. Treatment centers and states have privacy issues to weigh and may be hesitant to admit a child is gone, fearing liability.

Burrell said she wasn’t told her daughter was missing until a day after A’Kiera left. She has started a Facebook page, A’Kiera’s Alert, to help other families. The start of school is one of the stressful times for children who have been taken from their home and might be behind in studies.

A’Kiera left home again in May. She was gone three days before police found her in Lee’s Summit. She is being treated at a center outside Kansas City now.

“A runaway is not a throwaway,” her mother said. “They are somebody’s child.”

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at msanchezcolumn.

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