Human Trafficking Search recently published a state-by-state report card examining the link between foster care and human trafficking across states to grade states on their foster care and anti-trafficking provisions. This blog is the third of a blog series to summarize the publication. All states were ranked based on six criteria, as discussed in our first blog of the series.
The results from this state-by-state report card indicate that, despite evidence that the foster care system and trafficking are intricately linked, states have yet to take adequate steps to protect youth in the foster care system. Indeed, graded against our robust criteria, the highest score for any state was 23.5/32 (73%), with an average score of 17/32 (53%).
According to our grading criteria, 31 states including the District of Columbia received four points or higher on anti-trafficking provisions, an indication that addressing human trafficking has been a concern of national and state legislators. In fact, all states recognize human trafficking as a crime, and specifically recognize sex trafficking and labor trafficking in their statutes. This is an improvement from 2013, when, for example, Pennsylvania and Colorado did not specifically criminalize sex trafficking. The burden of proof to convict child traffickers is also lowered in 47 states. This is an indication of the nation’s effort to protect minors that have been sexually exploited as a result of sex trafficking, and of a change in the discourse from criminalization to protection. However, though child trafficking legislation has improved, and state governments have amended bills and statutes to protect sexually exploited minors, 20 states still have not enacted any Safe Harbor Law. Without Safe Harbor legislation, minors are left in the criminal justice system, without access to critical social services, and face detention and abuse by the system. Further, only five states have implemented a Human Trafficking Intervention Court. That, along with the lack of mandatory training for state law enforcement on human trafficking victim identification and protection, leaves many victims of sex trafficking in the criminal justice system instead of receiving appropriate treatment.
While trafficking policies are a category of their own, the intersections of human trafficking and foster care is often ridden with intricate complexities, including homelessness, being disconnected from family, being undocumented, and identifying as LGBT. For this reason, it is imperative for states to have effective foster care provisions and LGBT youth protections. According to our grading criteria, overall, states struggled most to succeed in the kinship care, reporting laws, and LGBT protections categories. In terms of kinship care, 33 states lacked an option for the kinship caregiver to acquire legal custody of the child in their care. 23 states provide the same financial aid for both non-relative and relative care homes, instead of providing specific benefits to encourage kinship care. 17 states offer no benefits for kinship care families. Additionally, 18 states have entered into a 287(g) agreement with ICE which increases the likelihood that children in foster care will have an undocumented parent that has been detained or deported.
Thirty-four states have failed to implement appropriate state reporting laws, and it is perfectly legal for welfare agencies not to report a child missing from their care. Additionally, 45 states will not disqualify prospective foster parents for having sex offender or human trafficking convictions, which puts foster children at an unnecessary risk. Over half of the states received zero points in the LGBT protections category. Only California and D.C. have any laws specifically to help LGBT youth experiencing homelessness, or addressing the discrimination and abuse that LGBT youth face in foster care.
Although states struggled with kinship care policies, the current child welfare system is not completely broken. All 50 states and the District of Columbia provide background checks of potential foster parents. States generally did relatively well in the aging out policies category. According to our grading criteria, 35 states including District of Columbia received 4 points or more on aging out policies. Specifically, once the children are placed in the welfare system, foster care benefits don’t terminate until the youth turns 21 in 42 states. Three states, Massachusetts, Texas, and Connecticut, even provide foster care benefits to the recipients after they have turned 21. This is a critical protective factor that prevents youth in foster care from ending up in human trafficking situations, as the youth receive more educational, financial, and social support and stability.
In terms of assisting older children’s transition out of care, currently every state has policies that mandate a transition plan for youth transitioning out of care. All 50 states also provide some sort of housing assistance, whether it is housing vouchers, Independent Living Programs, or voluntary re-entry to extended care. Housing assistance for youth who have left care is important as it allows more time for them to find employment or continue education with secure housing in place. Aside from housing assistance, there is room for improvement in terms of policies for tuition waiver and extended foster care. Only half of the states provided tuition waivers for former or current youth in foster care to attend college, and 26 states do not have policies around voluntary return to extended foster care.
In the best interest of protecting vulnerable youth within the foster care system from being trafficked, it is imperative that all criteria are considered when creating and implementing anti-trafficking and foster care provisions. Next week, we will discuss how legislators, both on the state and national level, can change the system to ensure that youth in foster care are safe from being trafficked.
Read our full report on Foster Care and Human Trafficking Here.