HNewsWire- The one thing that most child victims of sex trafficking have in common is involvement in the child welfare system. More than 60% of youth rescued from traffickers reside in either foster care or group homes. How traffickers exploit the vulnerabilities of youth involved in the child welfare system, risk and protective factors, and how foster parents and case workers can protect the youth in their care.
When children feel that no one care about them, and are moved from one placement to another, craving attention and stability children can easily find themselves seduced by traffickers who initially make them feel care for, only to find themselves used for financial gain. Many children in foster care have been previously abused, putting them at further at risk. In addition, children who are placed into foster care as adolescents are automatically placed into group homes since foster parents generally are only willing to take young children. In fact, traffickers will often send one of their girls into group homes to find girls and urge them to leave by saying things like they will be well taken care of financially and have a “family” so to speak who will care for them.
Notably, the average age of children who are trafficked into prostitution that are picked up by law enforcement for the first time is 14. Experts have extrapolated that these girls have generally been “on the track” or “in the life” for at least two years meaning the average age entering the sex trade would be 12. One of my colleagues worked with a client who was 10 when she first became trafficked. One of my former adolescent clients, Sherry, was beaten by pimps and johns time and time again. Each time she would contact me and I would visit her in the hospital. While I always encouraged her to leave the life and, in one instance got her to enter into a program, she kept returning to her pimp and ultimately was killed. It wasn’t enough to have an attorney such as myself who cared enough to be there for her when she was in crisis. She needed someone to be there in the day to day, to tell her that she mattered and that she was cared for.
Unfortunately, the foster care system in New York City perpetuates a reliance on foster care and adoption subsidies that prioritizes the money over the child. This was made
abundantly clear in a recent exposé which revealed that hundreds of adoptive parents continue to get monthly government subsidies of up to $1,700 per child even though their child is no longer living with them. They can receive the subsidy until the child is 21 unless they voluntarily terminate the subsidy, which many do not, even if the child re-enters foster care.
While it is often deeply flawed, and probably overused, foster care is a necessary, and in some cases, very positive, policy response to the real problems of child abuse and neglect. So, what can we do to improve outcomes for children in foster care? It is crucial that help children in the system feel more like children in families. This will require a necessary change in how foster parents are recruited and from where. So that future children in foster care can be given what Nina and Sherry did not have, foster and adoptive parents who are committed to them and their development into adults, and who at the most fundamental level will let them know that they matter, and are loved and cared for.
Minors in the foster care system are significantly more likely to be trafficked than their peers who have had no contact with the child welfare system.
- A 2007 study of 2,250 child victims of trafficking revealed that 75 percent of children had previous contact with the child welfare system, mostly in the context of abuse and neglect proceedings.
- In 2013, 60 percent of children rescued in a nationwide raid led by the FBI in more than 70 cities were from foster care or group homes (NPR, 2013).
- In 2012, Connecticut reported 88 child victims of sex trafficking. Eighty-six were child welfare involved, and most reported abuse while in foster care or residential placement.
- In Alameda County, California, a one-year review of local CSEC victim populations found that 55 percent were from foster youth group homes, and 82% had previously run away from home multiple times.
Homeless and runaway youth are another common target for traffickers.
Runaway youth are often approached by traffickers at transportation hubs, shelters or other public spaces. These traffickers play the role of a boyfriend or a significant other, using feigned affection and manipulation to elicit commercial sex or services from the victim. Runaway or homeless youth may be compelled to exchange sex for basic survival necessities, such as food, shelter, or protection.
- At least one in three homeless youth engage in “survival sex,” the exchange of a sexual service for food, clothing, shelter or protection.
- According to Covenant House, “Shelter was the number one commodity traded in return for sexual activity. Of those who engaged in commercial sex activity, almost half (of youth) – 48 percent in total – said they did it because they did not have a place to stay. Participants (in the Covenant House Research) explained how traffickers loiter in areas where homeless youth are known to gather and then tell them that the shelters are full and offer them a place to stay in lieu of sleeping on the streets.”
- 162,000 homeless youth are estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States.
- Fifty-six percent of women in prostitution were once runaway youth. (Congressional Research Service)
- Youth living on their own are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicide attempts and other health problems due to the enhanced exposure to violence. Each of these factors increases the youth’s vulnerability to traffickers.
Human trafficking is closely linked to children in foster care, and as a foster parent, it”s crucial to be educated on the topic so you can do your best to help prevent or stop it in its tracks
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