By Lynsey Clark
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) authored legislation this month aimed at developing better training and data collection on child trafficking.
The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act (H.R. 1732), which has five Republican and ten Democratic co-sponsors, would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop and publish guidelines to assist child welfare agencies in serving trafficking victims.
Those state-level child welfare agencies will be required to make “reasonable efforts” to document trafficking experiences in the case files of its wards, and report missing, abducted or trafficked youth to law enforcement within 72 hours.
Children in these circumstances are currently tracked in the National Crime Information Center database, but this protocol would ensure they are tracked in a timely manner.
“State child welfare agencies are rarely given the resources and education needed to identify and protect trafficking victims,” according to Rep. Bass in a press release.
Nationally, child trafficking is a multi-billion dollar commercial industry that preys on children as young as ten. Hundreds of thousands of children are victimized annually, according to a recent report from The Child Welfare Council, which advises Californian child welfare agencies and aims to promote system collaboration.
“A community approach is needed to help bridge these gaps and prosecute traffickers so these innocent women and children can begin rebuilding their lives,” Bass wrote. “We all can play a role in building that change. We must ensure child welfare agencies have the tools to understand the unique needs of child-trafficking victims and the resources to appropriately serve them.”
Exploiters target younger children because they are easiest to manipulate and deceive. Many of them, between 50 and 80 percent, are wards of the foster care system, according to a recent report titled “Ending the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.”
“Foster youth are particularly vulnerable to child trafficking, and few agencies have incorporated policies, protocols or case management techniques to prevent exploitation and appropriately meet the needs of trafficking victims,” Rep. Bass wrote.
The FBI has determined that three of the nation’s thirteen High Intensity Child Prostitution areas are located in California: the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego metropolitan areas.
The bill would be funded by amending the Foster Care and Adoption Assistance title of the Social Security Act. It would take effect one year after its passage, and includes no new authorization for federal funding.
Representative Bass introduced a similar bill in 2011, but it died at the close of the 2012 session.
Lynsey Clark is a second year student at University of California-Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. She is currently a fellow in Fostering Media Connection’s Journalism for Social Change Program