Darron Glass, 10, often ran away from his foster home, a dilapidated frame house in DeKalb County, where he lived the Fanny Mae Smith, 59, his foster mother, and three other children.

Darron's parents are dead. The county pays Smith $3.95 a day per child, plus allowances. On a reporter's recent visit, a man snoozed on a threadbare couch and another visitor held a beer in one hand and a baby girl with a runny nose in the other arm.

Darron, at 4-foot-9 and 75 pounds, was a "typical 10-year-old boy who liked to eat, drink Kool-Aide, play records and make noise," said Smith, who recently began requesting money for interviews.

Last Sept. 14, he didn't come home for supper. The next day, she called missing persons. "He'd run away three of four times a month," she said. "But that was the first time he stayed gone."

Once he got hungry, knocked on his uncle's apartment, got no answer and fast-talked the manager into giving him the key.He let himself in, raided the icebox and left. Smith never spanked him. "You're not supposed to paddle DeKalb County property," she said.

Briefly, she placed a trace on her telephone, in case he called, then took it off. "It cost $1 a month." Once, the operator broke in with an emergbency call from "Darron Glass," but the caller never spoke and never called back. She figures it was a trick," and said she believes Darron "went to live with some distant relative," and may still be alive. Police doubt it.