Foster Care & Human Trafficking: What You Need to Know

What You Need to Know About Foster Care and Human Trafficking

You probably hear about human trafficking in the news all the time. It’s a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, problem in America — and foster children are at a higher risk of becoming victims. Learn what human trafficking is, how it’s connected to foster children and steps you can take to be a part of the solution.

What exactly is human trafficking?

According to Homeland Security, human trafficking is “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Across the world, millions of people, including children, women and men, are subject to human trafficking crimes every year. In the United States, the FBI estimates that more than 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking.

There are many misconceptions floating around about human trafficking, so let’s clear those up with some facts from the Blue Campaign:

  • Human trafficking does occur in the United States, not just in other countries. It also occurs in areas outside of big cities you may not expect, like suburbs and rural towns.
  • Victims of human trafficking are not only poor or foreign-born. Human trafficking does not discriminate — individuals of any gender, race, age or nationality can become targets.
  • Human trafficking and human smuggling are not the same. Smuggling involves taking people across a country’s border, whereas trafficking does not require movement across borders.
  • Not every victim will seek help when in public. Many victims are terrified to reach out for help (if they are equipped with the means to do so), as they are often threatened with violent retribution should they speak out.

What is the connection between human trafficking and foster care?

According to the National Foster Youth Institute, it’s estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system.

Human traffickers will prey on individuals who are most vulnerable, which is why foster children have a greater risk of becoming victims than those who aren’t in the system. Things that make people more susceptible to human trafficking include:

  • Those who have feelings of hopelessness and depression
  • Children who have experienced trauma
  • Runaways from group or foster homes
  • Young adults who are sent out of foster care at the age of 18
  • Homeless youth, especially LGBTQ+

In some cases, foster children have a history of being used by biological parents as a “paycheck,” meaning they may be more attracted to the type of increased attention and lavish advances human traffickers are well versed in conducting.

How can I help become part of the solution?

Fighting human trafficking has to come from a number of angles. Many federal and state laws can lead foster children into situations where they aren’t set up for success, which will take persistence to reform.

You can help fight human trafficking in other ways. Start by wearing blue on January 11 to help raise awareness for Human Trafficking Prevention (learn more about the Blue Heart Campaign here). Be sure to follow @DHSBlueCampaign on social media, and use hashtags #HumanTrafficking and #WearBlueDay to stay in the loop!

Next, educate foster children and adults about human trafficking. Teach children what to look out for when it comes to human traffickers attempting to lure them into dangerous situations. Educate parents and surrounding adults (foster and biological alike) on signs of children who may be stuck in human trafficking situations, and adults who may be attempting to prey on vulnerable kids. For details on what these signs are, see our blog post, How to Fight Human Trafficking as a Foster Parent.

If you suspect someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, it’s important to contact your local authorities and seek professional counseling for help. Agencies like SAFY can provide support to victims who are in need of Behavioral and Mental Health services.

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