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Sometimes 'Just Ask' becomes a day-long search

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Newspaper feature seeks to find answers

By Linda Ireland

Does The Life Connection have any obligation to inform its neighbors when a resident leaves the property?

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Every now and then, I have difficulty finding the answer to a Just Ask question.

This was one of the times.

The Life Connection in Sonora is a residential treatment institution for young men with special needs. It has a capacity for 50 children. I was able to learn that much from the Internet.

According to a “Comparative Report” of October 2009, TLC has been in business 16 years caring for males ages 11-18. There were 29 residents with an average age of 15.8 years at that time.

Occasionally, one of the children will leave the property, which was once the site of Bud’s Lake. We hear about the search on the scanner or through the grapevine.

Understandably, neighbors grow concerned about the welfare of a child missing in rural Kentucky, especially in very cold weather like we have been experiencing. They want to know what’s happening when they see fire trucks passing their homes and volunteers looking through fields and outbuildings.

So it did not surprise me to receive the question.

I appreciate TLC’s concern for privacy for their children. Still I expected to learn the general protocol for finding a missing child.

I was surprised by the answer.

When I called the institution, I was transferred to director Bruce Arnette who told me repeatedly, “This is a private company and we don’t have to tell you anything.”

I asked to speak with someone else and he advised TLC’s attorney would be contacting me.

I found the name of the lawyer through the Secretary of State’s Web site. Elizabethtown attorney Mike Moulton and I played phone tag throughout the day.

In the meantime, I called the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, local dispatch and Kentucky State Police to try to learn the answer.

Does TLC have any obligation to inform the neighborhood of a runaway?

More phone tag.

Eventually, I learned that TLC calls KSP if they are unable to locate the missing child. Officers then join the search. If they “exhaust all attempts” to find the child, they file a missing person report and call LaRue County dispatch and ask for assistance from local fire departments, according to KSP spokesperson Bruce Reeves.

Local fire departments are made up of volunteers who may very well be neighbors of TLC. But that’s beside the point.

Reeves was not aware of attempts to notify neighbors in the community.

LaRue County dispatch confirmed the scenario.

Mr. Moulton – once we were able to make contact – also confirmed the chain of notification, adding that TLC follows protocol established by the Cabinet. Neighbors are not notified, he said.

He was very pleasant and I appreciate his efforts to reach me.

I’m still waiting on a phone call from the state to see what protocol it requires.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children advises the following for child-welfare agencies in case of a missing child:

•Memorandum of Understanding between the agency and law-enforcement agencies

•Procedures for joint-response reports of missing children

•Develop mutually agreed upon protocols that include clear reporting arrangements, response procedure and a public-information plan.

This includes “immediate community-notification systems when warranted.”

But that’s not a requirement – merely a suggestion.

Do “private” companies have obligations to their neighbors? This “Just Ask” is open to debate.