The Child Welfare System and Human Trafficking

The Child Welfare System and Human Trafficking
  • Thousands of migrants are trafficked into America every year. 
  • Children are among those who are exploited by human smugglers. 
  • During the surge of unaccompanied minors, the US government lost children who were placed in the foster care system.
  • Advocates are calling for authorities to reform the system.

( – Human trafficking, especially that of children, has long been a concern along the Southern border. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP), smuggling remains a significant problem even 22 years after Congress signed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. It’s not just foreign-born people who are impacted by the crime; Americans are, too. Children are especially vulnerable and, unfortunately, the very systems in place to help them have contributed to their pain in many cases.

Foster Care System

In 2016, The Washington Post reported that then-President Barack Obama’s administration had placed unaccompanied minors with human traffickers. A report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations detailed nearly 30 cases where federal officials released children to foster families who then exploited them. During former President Donald Trump’s administration, Health and Human Services admitted it was unable to locate 1,500 kids it placed in the system between October and December 2017.

It’s not just a matter of placing children in unsafe households, but also failing to protect kids in the system from bad actors in general. In 2019, nearly 30 state child welfare agencies reported 877 sex trafficking victims. The very next year, 35 states acknowledged 953 victims.

The organization Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY) reported that National Foster Youth Institute has estimated nearly 60% of child sex trafficking victims had a history within the foster care system. Because kids within the system have often experienced trauma, have higher rates of depression, or other issues, it makes them more vulnerable to predators.


According to SAFY, there are ways to protect kids from falling victim to traffickers. Educating foster children is very important. They should be taught the warning signs to be on alert to prevent dangerous individuals from coercing them.

Experts have asked child welfare agencies to develop person-centered and trauma-informed screening tools to train professionals to establish trust with kids so they have someone to turn to when they need help. Although this won’t help prevent the crime, agencies should make sure victims of smugglers receive mental health care, medical care, a safe place to live, specialized counseling, and other treatments to help them cope.

Do you have any suggestions to help prevent children from falling victim to these horrific crimes?

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