For too many children in the foster care system, their lives have been filled with instability, abuse, and neglect. Often these children are passed from home to home not knowing how long they will stay in one place or who they can trust. The psychological toll of such an environment makes it all too easy for human trafficking rings to target vulnerable foster care youth and force them into what can only be described as modern day slavery. That is why lawmakers, community leaders and law enforcement agencies are joining forces to prevent the estimated 104,000 children in foster care from becoming victims of physical and psychological abuse.
Studies show the majority of trafficked children are either currently in foster care or had been in the child welfare system in the past. Of the children reported missing in 2010 that were also likely trafficking victims, 60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the majority of human trafficking victims experienced sexual abuse growing up – victims of sexual abuse are 28 times more likely to be coerced into trafficking than children who have not suffered such abuse. Even though a history of prior abuse places many children in foster care at far greater risk of becoming victims of human trafficking, the child welfare system must do more to identify and protect those at risk.
Last month, I joined my colleagues in passing the bipartisan Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which makes critical reforms to our foster care laws, working to identify those most vulnerable to predators and take concrete steps to protect these children from abuse. First, the bill increases the reporting requirements for foster parents and child welfare agencies, encouraging them to identify at-risk youth and develop new ways to ensure better information is provided to caseworkers assigned to these children.
Our legislation also works to address current foster care policies that can make it difficult for children to participate in sports, sleep over at a friend’s house, obtain a driver’s license, or get a part-time job – all common rites of passage for kids making the transition into adulthood. Although well-intentioned, in some cases these strict rules can lead to a child becoming isolated and separated from family and friends, making them more vulnerable to victimization. The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act offers financial support and incentives for the adoption of foster children to families who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Providing these children more normalcy through social development activities and increasing their chance of adoption into a permanent family is key to not only protecting them from predators but setting up foster care children for long-term success.
Through partnerships at the federal, state and local level, we can go after the criminals who commit this horrible crime, and protect the most vulnerable members of our society. These reforms are a huge step forward, and I will continue to press forward to stamp out the scourge of human trafficking in our communities.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District