Human Trafficking and Foster Youth: Risks and Prevention
Today’s topic is heavy, but it is something that’s near to our hearts at Good Samaritan for a myriad of reasons: January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise worldwide and 25% of human trafficking victims are children. Many of these children are trafficked specifically for sex.
These are disturbing realities and as an organization that works with youth in foster care, this is something we take very seriously. The youth in our care have often experienced abuse and trauma. When they enter our programs, they are often just beginning to learn the life skills they need to thrive as adults. This makes them especially vulnerable to being targeted by human traffickers.
According to Children’s Rights, youth in foster care are more likely to be targeted for sex trafficking than their peers. In fact, 60% of child trafficking victims have spent time in the child welfare system. This number is staggering.
Human traffickers will often target the specific vulnerabilities that many foster youths face. This may be a lack of support from adults in their lives, homelessness, unemployment, past trauma from the system, etc. Social Work Today notes that “youths who lack a caring adult in their lives were more likely to be trafficked.” And when asking former foster youth what type of support would have prevented them from falling prey to human trafficking, many cited that both learning independent living skills and having a supportive adult to help teach them skills would have made a difference.
This is where prevention comes in.
When foster youth do not have a safe place to live, do not have access to sufficient wages, do not have support from caring adults, and do not have access to resources needed for stability, they are more likely to become a target for human traffickers who will seek to exploit these vulnerabilities.
In our Transitional Living program, our focus is on prevention and helping youth develop into the best version of themselves. We work to give youth the skills and knowledge they need to thrive while also providing support from caring adults who want to see them succeed.
What does this look like? Well, youth can work with staff to:
- Practice driving
- Search for and purchase a vehicle
- Apply to college
- Fill out a FAFSA
- Apply for an apartment in their own name
- Schedule doctor’s appointments
- Advocate for their physical and mental health
- Problem solve relationship issues
- Practice interviewing skills and writing resumes
- Open bank accounts
- Practice shopping on a budget
- Develop meal plans
- Ride public transportation
- And so much more!
Ultimately, it is about helping youth feel prepared and comfortable to take those steps towards independence.
And perhaps most importantly, youth know that they can talk to staff about difficult topics without fear of judgment. Having this support system in place enables youth to navigate hardships in their lives and develop healthy coping skills. Additionally, staff will often talk to youth about what healthy relationships look like whether those relationships are friendships or romantic partnerships. Having this knowledge helps youth avoid potentially unsafe situations and build a network of people who have their best interests at heart.
Human trafficking is a horrifying reality for so many vulnerable children in the United States. At Good Samaritan, we believe that it is not only important to spread awareness, but to also put programs in place that focus on prevention. When the youth in our care leave our programs, they will enter adulthood with the skills, support, and knowledge to thrive.