Human Trafficking Intersection with Child Welfare

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Issue: Human Trafficking Intersection with Child Welfare


Children in the foster care system are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.  The policies under consideration could impact the handling of these cases in state courts.   


State court leaders support efforts to effectively address human trafficking of vulnerable children and to provide adequate funding to state courts for training to better screen and recognize such cases, and implement best court practices. (CCJ/COSCA Resolution 14-A-9)


The issue of human trafficking, including sex trafficking is getting increased attention by Congress.  Attention is also focusing on the intersection between trafficking and child welfare.  Children in the foster care system are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked in the sex trade.


On 5/16/13, the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking and the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth hosted a briefing to discuss commercial exploitation of youth, especially youth in foster care, to address strategies and best practices to both prevent sex trafficking as well as treatment and support for the child and youth victims. Co-sponsors Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) highlighted the need to change the way girls are viewed and treated. In many jurisdictions programs and child welfare systems treat victims as criminals and as a result they are not receiving the services and supports they need.

On 6/7/13, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act S. 1118).  The bill would amend both Title IV-E state plan requirements and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).  Similar to H.R. 1732, the measure would require state agencies to (1) identify and document each child who is a victim of sex trafficking and (2) report within 24 hours missing or abducted children to law enforcement for entry into the National Crime Information Center.  In addition, a state is to describe in their state plan measures the state is taking to protect and provide services to children who are victims of sex trafficking including efforts to coordinate with law enforcement, juvenile justice and other social services, such as homeless shelters.

On 9/18/13, Senator Hatch introduced the Improving Outcomes for Youth At Risk for Sex Trafficking (IO YOUTH) Act of 2013 (S. 1518), which focused on youth in foster care as they are particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.  Under the proposed legislation, state courts would have increased responsibility for monitoring the actions of state child welfare agencies.

On 12/19/13, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the Supporting At-Risk Children Act (S. 1870) and the Protecting Youth At-Risk for Sex Trafficking Act (S. 1878).  S. 1878 included many of the provisions of Senator Hatch’s S. 1518.  S. 1870 included the language of S. 1878, as well as other child welfare-related and child support provisions. 

On 6/26/14, the leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee announced bi-partisan agreement on a new bill, Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980)This legislation reflected agreements reached between the House and Senate negotiators, reconciling differences on three bills previously approved by the House (H.R. 1896, H.R. 3205, and H.R. 4058) and the Senate Finance Committee (S. 1876, S. 1877, and S. 1878).  The legislation included numerous provisions that will encourage states to reduce the incidence of sex trafficking among youth in foster care, empower and promote normalcy for foster youth, and quickly move more children from foster care into adoptive homes or the homes of relatives.  . On 9/29/14, the President signed H.R. 4980 making it P.L. 113-183.

In May 2015, Congress approved the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, which is now Public Law No: 114-022.  Among other things, the measure amended the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act to require states to (1) have procedures for identifying and assessing reports of child sex trafficking, (2) train child protections services staff on identifying, assessing, and providing comprehensive services to victims, (3) collect and report data on the number of children who are victims of trafficking, and (4) consider any child who is identified as a victim of sex trafficking or severe forms of trafficking as a victim of “child abuse and neglect” and “sexual abuse.”  For purposes of this Act, a state has the option to define a “child” as a person who has not attained age 24.  The new law is effective 5/29/17.