by Natalie Tarasar, Constituent Services Intern
I Google-imaged the word “Child”; then I Google-imaged “Adopted Child”; then I Google-imaged “Foster Child.”
I figured that a quick search on Google would reflect an interesting social thought or emotion on the issue. The search for Child showed me pictures of innocence and joy; Adopted Child gave me mixed-race families and happiness; but Foster Child showed me both innocence and isolation, smiles and tears, open arms and fetal positions. Why were negative images mixed in with foster care?
Don’t get me wrong; I realize that a Google search is one step below Wikipedia on information credibility, but my little social experiment got me thinking about the importance of stable families for children.
The National Council For Adoption has always and will always promote the safe, stable, and loving forever families for every child. Families provide safety, warmth, love, shelter, support, encouragement, and social interaction—things that all children deserve. Our focus on the positive, loving placement of children has been so dominant in my mind every day at work, that I was absolutely floored to learn that trafficking was so common among children in foster care and could even occur among adopted children if appropriate reviews, supports, and laws weren’t available or enforced.
Keep in mind that perspective is important. Recently, the House Ways & Means, Human Resource Subcommittee held a hearing on Preventing and Addressing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care. Representative Slaughter shared there that most of the 400,000 children in the US foster care system are in loving and safe family settings. Families who have opened their hearts and homes to children who need them. Without diminishing the weight of this issue, remember that we are discussing the outliers.
Trafficking popped up again when NCFA was asked to attend the 43rd Annual Congressional Black Caucus on Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking in America presented by Representative Sheila Jackson. A panel of experts spoke about a system that sometimes fails to protect its dependents, though ironically its primary goal is to remove children from unsafe environments.
I was astounded by the statistics we heard there; in New York 85% of trafficked minors have either a social services or foster care background—the national number is close to 60% of trafficked youth. I wondered if it was the foster system itself that provided a segue for children to become victims of trafficking—or vice versa—if trafficked and high-risk youth were put into the foster care system. Which came first?
The answer is an unfortunate combination, which perpetuates the cycle for victims and makes this problem all the more difficult to solve. The entire premise seems to boil down to one descriptor: vulnerability.
Children’s dependency makes them highly susceptible to coercion. Add to that traumatic and sometimes indefinite transitions into placement, and the vulnerability increases. At the Preventing and Addressing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care hearing, Withelma Pettigrew, a previous foster child and trafficked survivor, testified that foster children like herself have difficulty creating meaningful and positive relationships, become accustomed to isolation, and are often not involved in making their own life decisions (location, social workers, schools, activities, friends etc.) A perpetual state of mental and physical transition like this only heightens their vulnerability to manipulative and dangerous exploiters. The foster care system can make it seem normal and acceptable that their lives be unstable and they may accept the dangers of trafficking as one more hard transition – making them far too easy a target. Congressman Paulsen quoted the Chicago Tribune; “Because many girls in foster care feel starved for a sense of family, experts say it is not uncommon for pimps to target group homes.”
We’re grateful that many dedicated professionals—representatives, judges, lawyers, social workers, agencies, advocates, and others—work tirelessly to reduce the correlation between foster care and human trafficking. Every effort should be made to keep children safe while in foster care, this is essential. We think it’s our job at NCFA to remember to also emphasize that these are important, but only interim solutions.
Family is the forever solution. A loving, stable, permanent family and support system are the best protection and the best preventative measure to keep children out of particularly vulnerable environments. NCFA advocates for providing services so that families can be kept together whenever appropriately possible; it supports the reunification of children to their previous families; and of course our work focuses on creating families through adoption when appropriate. We think it’s important to review, educate, prepare, and support families to ensure that every child not only has a family, but thrives there. We believe that a permanent, nurturing forever family is the best solution and we don’t ever want to lose sight of that.