Foster care and human trafficking have strong ties. Part of this is due to the vulnerable state many children are in prior to entering the care of child welfare. Many in foster care have been exposed to sexual assault, have changed homes often, and don’t have a reliable family or social structure to call on.
At the close of 2016 there were 437,500 children in foster care. It’s estimated anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 of the children in foster care are at risk for human trafficking. In 2013, FBI raids in 70 cities revealed 60 percent of those rescued had originated from foster care or group homes.
In 2017 the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) received reports for 464,324 missing children. Of these children, it’s thought about 1 in 7 were enticed, coerced, or abducted into human trafficking and of those about 88 percent were in foster care or group homes at the time.
The link between foster care and human trafficking doesn’t stop with children. At 18 or 21 (depending on the state law) the youth is “aged out” of the system. With little knowledge or help to survive on, about 22 percent become homeless. This, unfortunately, plays into many traffickers hands because about 1 in 3 teens are approached by a trafficker within an hour of leaving home. As well, 75 percent of all trafficking victims were at one point homeless.
The shocking correlation doesn’t end here: Not only do the survivors have roots in foster care but so do the traffickers. Approximately 24 percent of traffickers were in foster care at one point and about 88 percent of traffickers were sexually abused by family, friend or a foster care parent.
It’s heartbreaking to know that a system designed to rescue children might actually be causing harm. The spread of knowledge shouldn’t be about feeding fear, but acknowledging the problem and finding solutions. These are crushing facts to face, but keep in mind that much of our knowledge is because people survived and are sharing their stories.
It's important to remember that there are many foster families that are doing amazing work in taking care of these children and we can be part of the solution! We can be open to being one of these loving families for these children. The gift of parents, siblings, and belonging is so powerful. You never know the impact you could have on one of these children. We can also offer support to families that have already taken this important step. What's needed is action and we can be that action.
written by Natasha Komen