Report Calls for New Response to Child Trafficking Victims

By Elizabeth Joyce, Senior Writer, National Center for Victims of Crime

“Bridging the Systems: Child Welfare, Trafficking, and Law Enforcement Working Together for Trafficked Children,” a report released Jan. 30 by the National Center for Victims of Crime, recommends steps to develop a comprehensive and more supportive response to child victims of trafficking who are often foster children, runaways, and other youth once under the care of child protective services. By coordinating the work of child welfare agencies and professionals who deal with human trafficking, the report suggests, the nation can improve its response to the victims and better combat the crime.

The 26 recommendations emerged from a national roundtable of national, state, and local advocates, practitioners, and officials to consider how to better integrate child protective services and anti-trafficking efforts and provide legal representation to child victims of foreign and domestic trafficking. With the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, participants shared their experiences and views on the needs of child trafficking victims.

The key reason for convening the panel, and the central insight behind most of the recommendations, is growing awareness that children caught up in the sex trade—previously viewed as delinquents or “willing” participants in criminal activity—are actually victims of trafficking. The panel’s recommendations included steps to improve public policy, legislation, research, professional training, resources, and legal representation for these victims and those who work with them.

Recommendations for public policychanges include federal action, such as a clear policy directive from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to child welfare administrators to improve their identification of and response to child trafficking victims, and joint policy directives from ACF and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stating that child welfare administrators have the authority to certify children for U visas. Other policy recommendations apply to the juvenile justice system, such as routinely screening juveniles for trafficking at case intake and periodically thereafter, and collaborating with mental health and medical providers to better identify and meet the needs of child trafficking victims.

Legislative recommendations include authorizing judges to issue orders to protect child trafficking victims from harassment or intimidation by traffickers and adopting Safe Harbor legislation that defines child prostitutes as victims of child sexual exploitation.

The panel also addressed legal representation of child trafficking victims, urging that human trafficking task forces and child welfare agencies coordinate cross-training of professionals in legal settings whose work involves child trafficking (e.g., prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil attorneys, guardians ad litem, court-appointed special advocates, and immigration attorneys) to increase understanding of the range of victims’ legal interests.

To the leaders of both organizations, the panel’s work holds great promise for improving the nation’s response to child trafficking victims. “We hope these recommendations will spur nationwide collaborations among all who work with child trafficking victims,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “This roundtable and the resulting recommendations show that we can combine our knowledge to protect some of our nation’s most vulnerable children,” noted Tracy Field, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Child Welfare Strategy Group director.

The full report is available from the child trafficking page of the National Center for Victims of Crime website, www.victimsofcrime.org.

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