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ABA addresses the impact of sex trafficking on foster youths

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The ABA is urging Congress to promptly enact legislation to break the link between sex trafficking and foster youths.

The statistics are alarming. The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children estimates that six out of every 10 children involved in sex trafficking have been in foster care, and the rate is increasing. Foster children, who have no permanent home, are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking because they are highly susceptible to manipulation and false promises that traffickers use to gain trust.

ABA policy adopted in 2011 recommends screening and risk assessment for trafficking victimization whenever a youth enters the child welfare system, immediate reporting when children are missing from care, and authorization for courts to issue and enforce protective orders prohibiting harassment or intimidation of child trafficking victims.

The ABA emphasizes the need to educate lawyers, judges and others in the justice system regarding legal issues pertaining to child trafficking, and the association supports measures to help states improve the work of their child welfare systems to identify and respond to children who are trafficking victims.

During the current Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have held numerous hearings, and conducted an extensive comment and drafting process to develop legislation that addresses the problem of sex trafficking and foster children. The House took a significant step in May when it overwhelmingly passed the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (H.R. 4058). The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and 39 co-sponsors, incorporates many of the ABA’s recommendations in requiring states to:

• Determine whether young people in foster care and others being served by state child welfare agencies have been victims of sex trafficking and determine appropriate services for victims.

• Document instances of sex trafficking and report them to law enforcement agencies, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

• Give foster parents additional authority to make day-to-day decisions regarding their foster child’s participation in age-appropriate activities.

• Do more to quickly move children out of foster care and into permanent, loving families.

• And ensure that youths in foster care are better prepared for a successful adulthood by allowing children ages 14 and older to assist in developing their plans to transition out of foster care.

“The child welfare system as a whole has not truly recognized trafficking as a crisis within the foster youth population,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and an original co-sponsor of H.R. 4058, during debate on the bill. Bass said most child welfare case workers have not been adequately trained and prepared to identify or respond to child victims of trafficking. The legislation would require states to provide such training to help case workers coordinate services to victims.


In comments submitted to Congress (PDF) in January, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman cited the association’s long-standing commitment to improving the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable children and families, and its strong support for legislation to address sex trafficking and foster youths. He said the ABA believes no young person should be allowed to leave foster care without safe and secure housing. “Too many youth are discharged from foster care and quickly become homeless,” he said, making them easy targets for traffickers.

The ABA also is concerned that many abused and neglected children never enter foster care. It is important, Susman stated, to collect data not only on the number of foster children who are victims of sex trafficking, but also on children found by protective services agencies to be maltreated in their own homes, which can result in them becoming trafficking victims.

Read the ABA’s comments to Congress on the link between sex trafficking and foster care (PDF).

Answering the Alarm: Encouraged by congressional efforts, the ABA addresses the impact of sex trafficking on foster youths

This report is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government. Rhonda McMillion is editor of ABA Washington Letter, a Governmental Affairs Office publication.

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