Earlier this week, President Obama signed a bill that could lead to major changes in the child welfare system.
Arguably the most important part of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act is its acknowledgment of something we don't like to think about but is nevertheless true: the strong connection between foster care and human trafficking.
The foster care system is an easy target for traffickers. Some have even gone so far as to call it a pipeline and training ground. With two high-profile Michigan busts in the last month, trafficking is obviously a big issue.
In some ways, being in the child welfare system prepares young people to be trafficked because the two systems, in worst case scenario, can be so similar:
- Young people in care are frequently moved from place to place without their consent
- Many report feeling disposable and "attached to a paycheck"
- Youth commonly lack support networks made up of caring adults
- It's easy to fall through the cracks without detection
The new law hopes to reduce the risk of youth in the system falling victim to trafficking by holding states more accountable. State child welfare agencies are now required to develop procedures for identifying, documenting, and reporting suspected incidents of human trafficking.
The new law also requires states to implement plans for locating and responding to youth who have run away from foster care – another measure to keep kids safe from traffickers.
The new law takes a step back and tries to catch kids in foster care before they're really vulnerable to trafficking. Young people who are more connected to their community and the supports within it are less likely to be trafficked. The law has added financial incentives for adoption, especially for teenage youth. For those kids who are not in the adoption pipeline, the law tries to encourage states to actually aim for a sense of normalcy for these kids – like the number of hoops a kid has to jump through just to get a permission slip signed. This law makes it easier for kids in care to participate in social, scholastic, and enrichment activities.
Of course, any law has to be followed to be effective. Michigan's child welfare system is still under review for failing to follow other federal guidelines to keep kids safe in care.