While Partners for Our Children has been focusing primarily on Washington State legislation, there are definitely important issues to monitor at the federal level. Currently, federal legislators have introduced a number of bills that seek to improve the lives of children in foster care, specifically those vulnerable to sex trafficking.

It has been widely reported that there are high numbers of foster children involved in sex trafficking. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, of the children reported missing who are also likely sex trafficking victims,60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away.  If you think about what many of these children want – to be accepted, cared for and loved – it’s no surprise that they are more easily lured away from foster care by someone who tells them they will take care of them.

These children can then get swept away in the trade for years. In the past, many of these young men and women were criminalized as prostitutes, but today, there is a growing understanding that they are victims. That’s why the proposed legislation aims to prevent child sex trafficking, but also provide support to the victims who need help rebuilding their lives.

H.R. 4058, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act is bipartisan legislation sponsored by Representative Reichert (R-WA) and Representative Doggett (D-TX) that amends Title IV-E (Foster Care and Adoption Assistance) of the Social Security Act (SSA). The act would require states to take steps to identify, prevent, and address sex trafficking of youth in foster care.*

“Children entering foster care who have already suffered abuse or neglect are particularly vulnerable to becoming sex trafficking victims,” said Representative Doggett. “This legislation can help to reduce trafficking through better identification of children who are being trafficked or most at-risk. We must insist upon better protection of children in the foster system.”

The legislation would require states to identify and report child sex trafficking victims within 24 hours to law enforcement authorities. The bill would also prohibit states from designating long-term foster care as the ultimate goal for children in foster care (a status called “Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement”), but instead attempt to place the children in permanent homes.

Additionally, H.R. 4058 would give foster children more input in their own case plans and require states to make sure that foster children over age 14 have the documentation they need in the real world, such as a Social Security card, birth certificate and medical records. This client-centered approach is an encouraging step for youth in foster care who often feel disempowered and voiceless.

Another prevention strategy is to provide normalcy to the lives of foster children – this lack of normalcy is one reason many children run away, which makes them even more vulnerable to trafficking. To address this, the federal legislation would create a prudent parent standard, which includes similar language to Washington’s recently passed HB 2699. This standard gives foster parents authority to allow children placed in their care to participate in normal childhood activities, such as field trips or weekend vacations.

This bipartisan bill is gaining support in Washington State and across the country and is definitely one that we will keep an eye on. What do you think about the bill?

UPDATE: Since originally posting this blog post, there has been progress at the federal level. H.R. 4980 - the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act - was introduced and took into account many aspects of other bills (including H.R. 4058) into consideration. On July 23, it was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives. The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week before Congress adjourns for the summer. More information on H.R. 4980 can be found at the House Ways and Means website.

*It’s important to note that there is another piece of legislation similar to H.R. 4058; last September, Senator Hatch (R-UT) introduced S. 1518 , theImproving Outcomes for Youth At Risk for Sex Trafficking Act of 2013. This bill also amends Title IV-E of the Social Security Act to require the state plan to demonstrate the state has developed policies and procedures for identifying and screening children whom the state has reasonable cause to believe are victims of sex trafficking or a specified severe form of trafficking in persons, or are at risk of being such victims.