OTIP Partners with HHS Office of Investigations to Locate Missing Foster Children in Missouri
The Office on Trafficking in Persons continues to collaborate with the HHS Office of Investigations on Operation HOPE (Helping Oppressed People Escape). The purpose of the project is to ensure the safety and well-being of foster children, locate youth missing from care, and to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse occurring within state-administered foster care.
Building upon the success of Operation HOPE last year in Kansas, more than 100 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers conducted another operation in Missouri last week. Law enforcement operated from command posts in Jackson County and St. Louis City, focusing on Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield metro areas. The operation resulted in successfully locating 24 youth, ages 13 to 17, who were missing from care. Five individuals were arrested and 23 additional investigations were opened, including four investigations of human trafficking. OTIP provided technical assistance to support the effort.
Human trafficking impacts multiple HHS-funded systems of care, including the child welfare system and runaway and homeless youth programs. The HHS Children’s Bureau provides information for child welfare agencies and caseworkers to identify and support children who have experienced human trafficking or are at risk for victimization. A background of abuse and trauma—coupled with the impermanence of foster care or congregate care—can make children in out-of-home care especially vulnerable. In 2016, the HHS Family and Youth Services Bureau found that about 36% of runaway and homeless youth interviewed in their Street Outreach Study had traded sex for something they needed. Most of the youth who reported trading sex for money did so only after they became homeless.