The Office on Trafficking in Persons supported the HHS Office of Investigation’s efforts to find children missing from foster care, including those at high risk for human trafficking as part of Project HOPE (Helping Oppressed People Escape). The purpose of the project is to ensure the safety and well-being of foster children and to identify and eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse occurring within state-administered foster care.
HHS located 18 missing Kansas foster children during a joint operation Visit disclaimer page with several federal and local investigative agencies in Sedgwick and Johnson counties in November. The number of missing foster children in the Kansas Department of Children and Families (DCF) varies daily. As of November 20, there were 56 verified missing youth from DCF.
Steve Hanson, HHS Special Agent in Charge said “one of our office’s highest priorities is to ensure the safety and security of our most vulnerable youth population. As the lead agency with oversight responsibilities of the $5.7 billion dollar foster care program, we have a responsibility to ensure these children are receiving quality care and services.”
As a result of this effort, the Kansas DCF has hired an anti-human trafficking manager to assist with ongoing efforts of the missing and runaway youth investigative unit. HHS OIG is also investigating waste, fraud, and abuse by individuals and entities in the Kansas foster care program.
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 Visit disclaimer page 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. 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.