February 01, 2014

ABA urges changes to strengthen child trafficking draft legislation

The ABA expressed support last month for efforts by the House Ways and Means Committee to advance legislation to address sex trafficking and foster youth.

Commenting Jan. 16 on draft legislation entitled “Preventing Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care,” ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said that the ABA supports the following:

•explicit requirements that state and local child welfare agencies identify, document and serve child victims of sex trafficking;

•a federal mandate to ensure prompt reporting of every child missing from agency care and expeditious efforts to locate and return those children to care; and

•a stronger role for the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services in helping child welfare agencies better prevent and address child trafficking.

Susman recommended several changes to strengthen the sex trafficking section of the draft, including provisions that would add safe and stable housing to child welfare agency responsibilities for trafficking victims and would 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.

He 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 on how many of the children found by child protective services to be maltreated in their homes were also trafficking victims. It is also important, he noted, to know how many youth already out of foster care and living on their own have been trafficking victims.

The ABA recommended that language be added to the draft’s provisions regarding permanency efforts on behalf of foster youth. Susman said the draft should ensure the inclusion of efforts to reconnect foster youth with their adult siblings, provide for independent legal counsel to protect the youth’s legal interests, and ensure continued health care access for youths who exit foster care.

Susman emphasized that “no youth should be discharged from foster care without having safe and secure housing,” pointing out that too many youth discharged from foster care quickly become homeless.   

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