House unanimously passes Co-Chair Bass legislation to fight child link between sex trafficking and foster youth

Jan 28, 2015

WASHINGTON—Today, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 469, the “Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015.” Introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), the legislation will help to connect child victims of trafficking to appropriate services and prevent further exploitation.
 
H.R. 469 would provide several tools to strengthen how state child welfare systems respond to child sex trafficking.
 
"This legislation will provide real training to those responsible for protecting foster children and will compile concrete data so that we can continue to fight against sex trafficking,” said Rep. Bass. “Children should never be treated as prostitutes. They are victims. And the men who abuse these children are not johns. They are child molesters. For far too many girls, our foster care system is a gateway to becoming a sex trafficking victim. Our children are our most precious resource, and we all have a responsibility to protect them. "
 
“As a father and grandfather, there is no more terrifying thought than a loved one falling victim to human sex trafficking. Yet each year, hundreds of thousands of families are forced to endure the pain and suffering of this heinous crime,” said Chairman Kline.  “We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to stop it and support the victims. I am pleased to join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in advancing that vital effort.”
 
The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015 is the result of years of work by Rep. Bass and child welfare advocates at addressing the nationwide link between children in the child welfare system and sex trafficking.
 
The legislation ensures that each state develops a child protection plan with provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports involving children known or suspected to be victims of trafficking, training plans for child protective service workers to appropriately respond to reports of child trafficking, and policies and procedures to connect child victims to public or private specialized services.
 
The legislation requires the Department of Human Services to submit a report to Congress outlining the prevalence and type of child trafficking nationwide as well as the current barriers to serving child victims comprehensively.

Further, this bill would ensure that states submit an annual report on the number of children identified as victims of trafficking within the already existing National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems.

The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015 addresses the nationwide connection between child sex trafficking and our nation’s foster care system.
 
In Los Angeles County, 59 percent of the 174 children arrested in 2010 on “prostitution” charges had contacts with the child welfare system, and 58 percent of 72 sexually trafficked girls in Los Angeles County’s STAR Court in 2012 were children in foster care. Under-age girls should never be arrested and charged with prostitution when they are victims.
 
In 2012, Connecticut Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz testified in the United States Senate that 98% of child victims of sex trafficking were child welfare involved, and most of these victims reported abuse while in foster care or group homes.
 
A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that 85% of identified child sex trafficking victims in New York State had contact with the child welfare system, and the FBI estimates that 70% of child sex trafficking victims in Florida were child welfare involved.
 
Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth Co-Chairs Representatives Trent Franks (R-AZ), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Tom Marino (R-PA ) also joined the legislation as original co-sponsors.
 
"For the hundreds of thousands of young people at risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation, our system is failing. These children are among our most vulnerable, and we must take stronger measures to ensure they are protected,” said Rep. Langevin. “That starts with accurate tracking and assessment, which will keep these children from falling through the cracks. We owe it to our children to do everything in our power to keep them safe, and I applaud Congresswoman Bass and Congressman Kline for taking the lead on this important legislation."
  
“As a child psychiatrist and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I applaud everyone’s bipartisan work on this important legislation,” said Rep. McDermott.  This bill is another step forward in our urgent mission to stop sex trafficking and to forge a just, healthy foster care system for children and families; a system fully capable of helping families in need and helping foster children grow to be healthy, productive adults.”
 
“I am proud to join this bipartisan effort with my colleagues. We have long been advocates of foster youth and sought to strengthen the protective resources and services for these children,” said Rep. Marino. “This bill provides the necessary measures to combat child sex trafficking and abuse. If we do not stand together to protect our youth, no one will.”
 
Advocates against human trafficking joined members of Congress in applauding the legislation.
 
"Rights4Girls applauds the passage of the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, legislation that would connect child trafficking victims with appropriate services and help protect them against further victimization," said Yasmin Vafa, Director of Law and Policy for Rights4Girls.  "We also commend Congresswoman Bass for shedding light on the intersection between child welfare and child trafficking and for her unrelenting efforts to protect our most vulnerable youth from violence and exploitation."
  
H.R. 469 is identical to H.R. 5081, which unanimously passed the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress. 
 
H.R. 469 now moves to the United States Senate for its consideration.