The search for a 2-year-old Twin Cities boy ended Thursday after his father led police to relatives who were caring for the child.

It was the second time the boy had gone missing this year, following a breakdown in communication between police and child protection.

His mother, 43-year-old Cynthia Kiewatt, vanished with the boy in May after Hennepin County social workers alleged that her suspected drug use and prostitution put the child in danger.

Police discovered them last week in a Bloomington motel room filled with addicts, drugs, crack pipes and syringes. Unaware the child had been reported missing, police turned him over to a family friend at Kiewatt's request. By Tuesday, county officials said they didn't know where he was.

That day, Bloomington police began a search. They found the boy's father, James Salter, on Thursday and arrested him on an unrelated warrant. Salter took police to relatives who were taking care of his son, according to the Hennepin County attorney's office. "He is safe, unharmed and in the protective custody of Hennepin County," County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement.

Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Mike Hartley said Wednesday that if his department had known the child was missing, they would have never given him to the family friend.

County social workers are now hoping to keep custody of the child. If that happens, he will be returned to foster care, where he spent the first several months of his life.

Kiewatt has a history of prostitution, drug abuse and child maltreatment dating to 1999. The boy was taken from her custody after he was born in May 2013 dependent on cocaine and opiates. The county returned the boy to her care about four months later, despite the objections of his foster parents, who feared she and Salter were abusing drugs.

The foster parents, Erin and Pernell Meier, hope they can again foster the child and eventually adopt him, as they have already adopted another of Kiewatt's children.

"We want him very much to come home," Pernell Meier said Thursday. "His big brother is so hopeful that he will come back to him."

Salter told the Star Tribune on Wednesday that the boy was with relatives in Chicago. That story was false, and the boy wasn't known to have left Minnesota, Freeman said in his statement.

The ordeal of the missing 2-year-old coincided with the first meeting Thursday of a Hennepin County task force on child protection. That task force was organized in response to a report in June by the Casey Family Programs that found the county failed to adequately protect children.

While considering additional reforms, the county is hiring 100 new child protection workers.

Brandon Stahl • 612 673-4626