The House took a significant step May 20 when it passed H.R. 4058, a bipartisan bill supported by the ABA to address the problem of sex trafficking and foster youth.
The Preventing Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, passed by voice vote, includes provisions to require states to:
• determine whether youth in foster care and other youth being served by the state child welfare agencies have been victims of sex trafficking and determine appropriate services for victims;
• document instances of sex trafficking and report the cases to law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
• provide foster parents with more authority to make day-to-day decisions regarding their foster child’s participation in age-appropriate activities;
• ensure that states do more to quickly move children out of foster care and into permanent, loving families; and
• ensure that youth in foster care are better prepared for a successful adulthood by allowing those age 14 and older to assist in developing their plans for transitioning out of foster care.
During floor debate, bill sponsor Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) emphasized that six out of every 10 children involved in human trafficking are foster children. “I am confident that this legislation will ensure that all states take real steps to better understand the problem and keep kids safe while in foster care,” he said. Noting the ABA’s support for the legislation, Reichert said the bill incorporates a range of ideas gleaned from more than 150 pages of public comments received on a discussion draft circulated late last year.
Rep, Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and an original cosponsor of H.R. 4058, explained that few child welfare employees have been adequately trained and prepared to identify or respond to child victims of trafficking, and the legislation would require states to provide training for case workers to coordinate services to victims.
In comments submitted in January, the ABA focused on strengthening the provisions to add safe and stable housing to child welfare agencies’ responsibilities for trafficking victims and to ensure that child welfare agencies are also responsible for undocumented, unaccompanied children and youth who may be receiving services under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The ABA also pointed out that many abused and neglected children never enter foster care, so it is important to collect data not only on the number of foster children who are sex trafficked but the number of children who are found by child protective services to be maltreated in their homes and who also are trafficking victims.
In addition to passing H.R. 4058 on May 20, the House passed four other bills related to human trafficking: H.R. 3630, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2014; H.R. 3610, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2014; H.R. 4225, the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2014, and H.R. 4573, the International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking.