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Foster Care and Human Trafficking – A Parent’s Perspective

A photo of two hands holding paper cut outs of a family.By Rochelle Rollins, PhD, MPH, Human Trafficking Health Policy Advisor

Ten years ago, the U.S. Congress established the fourth Sunday of every July as Parent’s Day, a result of a bipartisan, multiracial and interfaith coalition of religious, civic and elected leaders for “recognizing, uplifting and supporting the role of parents in the rearing of children.”

As parents, we are constantly learning new ways to equip our children to navigate the opportunities and challenges of life. A challenge that is gaining increasing attention is the existence of human trafficking in our communities.

A Wake-Up Call

Despite common beliefs, slavery in the United States did not end 150 years ago. Thousands of children in our cities and towns endure the horror and suffering of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. Human traffickers victimize children and adults in the commercial sex industry and force them to work in businesses like hotels and restaurants. 

The first federal law criminalizing these modern forms of slavery, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, defines severe forms of sex trafficking as the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” where the victim is under the age of 18. For individuals over 18 years of age, force, fraud or coercion must be present. 

It is estimated that between 100,000-300,000 American youth are currently at risk for becoming victims of trafficking.1 The average age of a child who enters the sex trade in the US is 12-14 years old.2 That is the 7th and 8th grade. Children too young to have a paid job at a local fast food restaurant are being forced to have sex with countless men every night and/or are exploited through pornography.

Vulnerability of Foster Children

The Guidance to States and Services on Addressing Human Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States describes how children receiving child welfare and runaway homeless youth services are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. Traffickers target those who have an unstable life, have been abused, neglected or exploited already. For example, a Los Angeles Probation Department survey revealed that 59 percent of the 174 children arrested for prostitution were in the foster care system and victims were often recruited from group homes.3 Recruitment also happens on the internet and in public places like the shopping mall and at school.

Increasing Training on Human Trafficking

In January 2014, a five-year Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, was released which calls for coordinated victim-centered, culturally relevant, comprehensive, evidence-based and trauma-informed care for victims and survivors. As a foster parent, I was thrilled to see the plan contains an action to explore possibilities to partner with social work organizations to increase training for social workers on human trafficking. The Administration for Children and Families is the lead federal agency for the action and success requires a group effort.                      

Like social workers, foster parents have an important role in protecting children from predators, so having information about human trafficking in our initial and ongoing trainings is helpful. The partnership between a social worker and a foster parent can be a powerful positive force in a child’s life, powerful enough to prevent predators from stealing the souls of our most vulnerable youth. Let’s dial up our engagement on the issue of human trafficking starting with our own awareness.

For more information about human trafficking visit, ACF’s End Trafficking resources.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888 provides a national toll-free hotline to receive tips and information about potential cases of human trafficking, provide referral for services, conduct training and technical assistance, and serve as a clearinghouse of information and comprehensive anti-trafficking resources. Text BeFree (233733).

1. THE COMMERCIAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN IN THE U.S., CANADA, AND MEXICO, produced by University of Pennsylvania, 2001

2. Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace. "Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature." Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims.

3. Sewell, Abby. (November 27, 2012). Most of L.A. County youths held for prostitution come from foster care. Los Angeles Times.   Referenced from the ACF Guidance to States and Services on Addressing Human Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States

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