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Education & Statistics
The Intersection Between Trafficking And The Child Welfare System
Education & Statistics

Understanding the Child Welfare System

Amongst the many circumstances that can make a child more susceptible to trafficking and exploitation, children in the child welfare system face increased vulnerability. It’s imperative to recognize and understand the relationship between the welfare system and human trafficking, in order to uplift and support those who are deeply impacted by the intersectionality of the two.

Foster care is often a temporary solution to a much more complex problem. Many children enter into foster care in a time of transition and end up staying there for an extended duration of time. Each year, there are 400,000 children on average in the foster care system, which means there is an increased need for funding these federal programs to best support the large influx of children and families involved. 

Of that number, 46 percent of the children are in nonrelative foster family homes. Being placed in a home, with which a child does not have any relatives or forms of familiarity, can drastically impact their journeys, especially if they are survivors of trafficking and exploitation. 

Intersectionality of Trafficking

Due to the adverse childhood experiences a child may go through before entering, or during the child welfare system, and the fleeting nature of foster care, children in the system are at an increased risk of trafficking and exploitation. To understand the heightened risk, studies in the last decade have shown the possiblity that between 50% to 90% of children and youth survivors of child sex trafficking have been involved with the child welfare system. These rates vary depending on the state, however, this is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed to protect these children from predators who are looking to exploit the vulnerabilities garnered by their upbringing and life circumstances. 

It’s incredibly important to look at the nature of both human trafficking and the child welfare system and how they overlap, and increase the risk and vulnerability of a small child or youth. This is one of the many reasons why O.U.R. places emphasis on aftercare and holistic care during and after a survivor is rescued from a human trafficking related case. Preventative measures, as well as aftercare, can decrease the chances of a child either going back to a similar situation or ending up in the cycles of foster care. O.U.R.’s goal is always to empower survivors on their healing journey, so that they are never found in a similar circumstance moving forward. 

Legislation to Address the Issue

Due to the prevalence of the problem, and the widespread nature of the issue, there has been up and coming legislation to address the issue and current gaps in local and federal responses. Although O.U.R. is not directly involved in the legislation process, we fully support and encourage any and all policies and procedures to address the intersectionality of human trafficking and the welfare system. Below is a list of current legislation in act:

  • Under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) expanded and amended the definition of an abused child to include survivors of child sex trafficking. States receive CAPTA funding if they ensure their child welfare professionals are trained to identify, assess, and provide services to survivors of child sex trafficking. 

  • Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act: Requires all states to implement policies able to identify, document, and provide services for survivors of trafficking. The act also requires any state social service agencies to report children who go missing under their care to law enforcement and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. 

  • The Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA): Supports CSEC youth, commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as foster care youth that are transitioning due to age. RHYA creates a three-pillar foundation including a basic center, street outreach, and transitional housing. Included in these services are temporary shelter, family reunification services, aftercare, and counseling. 

  • Family First Prevention Services Act: In February of 2018, the Family First Prevention Services Act was signed into law to reform federal child welfare funding streams to help in supporting children and families before they enter the foster care system.

  • Family First Transition Act: The Family First Transition Act was signed in the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, which allows states to fund particular services that aim at preventing entrance into the foster care system and work to keep families together in a tightly knit unit.
  • Promoting Safe and Stable Families (PSSF): This legislation aimed to help children remain connected with their families, prevent maltreatment of any kind, and promote a permanent foundation for children in foster care. PSSF has honorably worked with state agencies and local governments to provide and render services to families and children at risk. 

Guides and resources

Shining the light forward

Thank you to all who have been involved in fighting for the current legislation to support these survivors. Operation Underground Railroad gratefully acknowledges and supports legislation that is helping prevent and uplift children and families within the foster care system that face increased vulnerabilities to the darkness of human trafficking. Raising awareness and receiving legal support via legislation is a major step in addressing the issue.

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