Hatch Introduces Legislation to Combat Domestic Youth Sex Trafficking
Up to 60 percent of Sexually-Exploited Children Recruited Out of Nation’s Child Welfare, Foster Care Systems
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, introduced legislation, the Improving Outcomes for Youth At Risk for Sex Trafficking, IO YOUTH, that would help combat domestic youth sex trafficking.
“There is an epidemic of abuse that is taking place in America today. Some estimates have found hundreds of thousands of children and youth are at risk of domestic sex trafficking. Making matters worse: up to 60 percent of sexually-exploited children are recruited out of our nation’s child welfare and foster care systems,” said Hatch. “We owe these young people better than this. This legislation I am introducing today addresses some of the endemic and wide spread conditions in the child welfare and foster care systems that make children and youth particularly vulnerable to being sexually trafficked. It doesn’t add a penny to our debt and, most importantly, helps protect our children from the most vile kind of abuse and victimization.”
Hatch’s legislation requires states to show that they have policies in place to identify youth who are believed to be at risk of being trafficked. Specifically, the measure empowers youth in foster, providing them with more control over decisions affecting their lives and promotes policies to recruit and train quality foster parents. Furthermore, the legislation redirects funds from the Social Services Block Grant program to provide states with resources to keep children safely at home, improve the courts, support adoption and to provide housing to trafficked and other vulnerable youth.
“We live in contentious times. There are fierce policy and partisan divides on many critical issues, but the domestic sex trafficking of children and youth from foster care is NOT one of them,” continued Hatch. “If there is any issue under the sun that is without controversy, it’s this one. I hope my colleagues will join me in backing this legislation.”
Earlier this year, the Finance Committee held a hearing examining the issue of domestic sex trafficking and problems confronting America’s child welfare and foster care systems.
Hatch’s IO Youth has garnered the support of the National Children’s Alliance, Foster Club, Children’s Home Society of America, the National Network for Youth, the National Center for Housing and Child Welfare, Covenant House International, and the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Rights 4 Girls, and the Children’s Village.
Hatch delivered remarks on the Senate floor today regarding the bill. A full copy of his speech can be found HERE.
An overview of the legislation is below:
Key Features of Improving Outcomes for Youth At Risk for Sex Trafficking (IO Youth)
Identifying and Screening Youth at Risk of Sex Trafficking:
Issue: Many child welfare agencies will not serve trafficked children and youth who are not in the custody of a biological or foster family or living in a group home. Often these children, who are not legally able to give consent for sex, are arrested for prostitution and referred to the juvenile justice system. In many states the courts and the juvenile justice system and ill-equipped to deal with the trauma these children and youth have endured and end up exacerbating that trauma.
I O Youth: Requires states to demonstrate that it has developed policies and practices to identify and screen in youth whom the state has reasonable cause to believe are at risk of being trafficked or who are being trafficked, even if that youth is not in the care of a parent or resident of a group home. I O Youth also redirects resources to improve the current court system to better address the needs of trafficked youth.
Promoting Normalcy for Older Youth in Foster Care:
Issue: Older youth in care are routinely deprived of the opportunity to participate in normal age-appropriate activities and social events. This impairs their healthy development and increases the risk that these young people will be vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking, homelessness, drug abuse, poor educational outcomes, poverty and other negative outcomes.
I O Youth: Includes a number of provision to encourage, enhance and support youth in foster care being able to participate in age-appropriate activities and social events, thereby promoting healthy development, increased opportunities to form meaningful connections and reduce the risk of vulnerability to domestic sex trafficking and other negative outcomes.
Addressing Over Reliance on Group Homes for Older Youth in Foster Care:
Issue: A major risk factor making many susceptible to domestic sex trafficking and other negative outcomes for older youth in care is a continued reliance on group homes. These homes are routinely targeted by traffickers, and are often warehouses for youth who are rarely, if ever, allowed to engage in healthy age appropriate activities and social events.
I O Youth: Refocuses federal priorities by connecting vulnerable youth with caring, permanent families by eliminating federal matching funds for non-family foster homes for all children age 12 and under and for youth age 13 and older after 1 year of consecutive time spent in a non- family foster home or 18 months non-consecutive care spent in a non-family foster home, whichever comes first. For those remaining in group homes, the legislation requires that youth have improved access to normal, age appropriate activities.
Empowering Youth at Risk for Domestic Sex Trafficking and Other Negative Outcomes:
Issue: Older youth in care are often disengaged from the process of determining whether or not they should be adopted, placed with a guardian, reunified with their families or remain in foster care. This can lead to a sense of disenfranchisement and a lack of connection to siblings, relatives or other caring adults.
I O Youth: Requires states to provide ongoing family finding for older youth in care and regularly update a youth’s permanency plan involving the youth and individuals selected by the youth to a significantly greater degree in the development and monitoring of that plan.
Improving Housing Support of Trafficked and other Vulnerable Youth:
Issue: Testimony from a survivor of domestic sex trafficking at a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing revealed that the single biggest challenge to successful intervention with a victim of sex trafficking is a lack of accessible and affordable housing. For older youth who have been emancipated from foster care not having a place to sleep is often a reason why they enter the sex trade.
I O Youth: Redirects funds from the Social Services Block Grant program to be better utilized to provide states with resources to provide housing to trafficked and other vulnerable youth.