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Karen B.
Democrat CA 37

About Rep. Karen
  • Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2015

    by Representative Karen Bass

    Posted on 2015-01-26

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    BASS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the bipartisan Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, which I introduced with a group of bipartisan Members of Congress.

    The same version of this bill was unanimously passed in the 113th Congress. This legislation demonstrates how critical it is that Members of Congress work together to move policy that protects children from being sexually exploited. The work that both sides of the aisle have done on sex trafficking demonstrates a strong commitment to preventing our most vulnerable populations from becoming victims.

    First, I would like to thank Chairman Kline, Representative Walberg, and Ranking Member Scott for their leadership on continuing to support this legislation that works towards ensuring that no child in the United States becomes a victim of sex trafficking. I am grateful for their knowledge and assistance that helped bring this important bill to the floor today. I would also like to thank Judge Poe for his ongoing leadership on this issue.

    My colleague and friend, Representative Tom Marino, has been a leader in fighting for children in the foster care system. Mr. Marino, along with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth cochairs--Jim McDermott, Trent Franks, Jim Langevin, and Diane Black--all served as original cosponsors of H.R. 469 and have demonstrated leadership by both making significant change in the child welfare system and by bringing attention to the horrendous intersection between sex trafficking and our child welfare system.

    The U.S. Department of Justice reports that between 2008 and 2010 40 percent of sex trafficking cases involved the exploitation of children. Tragically, many of these children are forgotten without the appropriate services to ensure their safety. This highlights the failure of our system to prevent them from becoming victims.

    More than 200,000 youth in our country are at risk of trafficking per year. In my hometown of Los Angeles, the Probation Department reports that 61 percent of identified trafficking victims are foster youth. It is noteworthy that this statistic comes from the Probation Department and not the child welfare department. This legislation hopes to correct that. We want to make sure that child welfare agencies, in addition to juvenile justice, begin to document this problem.

    In Los Angeles, we are fortunate to have the STAR Court, which is a specialized, collaborative courthouse designed to serve youth who have been trafficked. The STAR Court team reports that 80 percent of the girls entering their courtroom have previously been involved in the child welfare system.

    As cochair of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the country as part of our Nationwide Listening Tour. Unfortunately, I have heard far too many stories about youth in foster care falling through the cracks in the system. Sometimes they are thought to be runaways. Sadly, they report that no one looked for them and that, in fact, they had not run away but had been abducted or tricked or drugged by a pimp when the system assumed they were bad girls who had just run away.

    Most of us were so moved by one woman that we often repeat her story. She told us in hearings that she felt the foster care system prepared her for exploitation because her pimp was the first person who told her that he loved her and that, while in foster care, she was moved so often and told so often that she was just a paycheck that she formed no healthy attachments and had nowhere to turn.

    We have to close the cracks in our system that leave a child feeling her [[Page H552]] pimp is the only one she can turn to or that she would rather be with a pimp than be bounced around from foster home to foster home. The system that is supposed to be designed to help vulnerable children should not turn around and victimize the children or allow them to fall into the hands of exploiters.

    Many of the young survivors we have met told us that, during the time they were being trafficked, they had numerous encounters with the child welfare system but that no one asked what was happening to them, especially girls in group homes. Pimps know this population is especially vulnerable. H.R. 469 will allow child welfare agencies across the Nation to develop State protection plans to outline provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports of children known or suspected to be victims of sex trafficking.

    H.R. 469 begins to prepare the child welfare system for this population. A first step is to document the extent of the problem. Another step is to ensure that each State has a plan to train social workers to identify and address the needs of this population. Arresting these children should not be the way we provide services. Arresting them treats them as criminals, and one has to question if jail is ever an appropriate place to provide the type of services these children need.

    H.R. 469 also requires that, within 1 year, the Department of Health and Human Services report to Congress on the prevalence and type of trafficking they have encountered. The report will assess State practices used to identify and serve trafficking victims and Federal laws and policies that might, in fact, prevent States from supporting these victims, including the absence of trafficking in the Federal definition of ``child abuse and neglect'' under CAPTA, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

    I am encouraged by the momentum that has been created to reform our child welfare system and to ensure that vulnerable children are provided with the resources they need. I strongly urge my colleagues to support H.R. 469, the Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, and to continue to work together in Congress to combat domestic minor sex trafficking.

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