Recent stories about human trafficking in the United States and abroad have made headlines. Many of these stories have offered false narratives and theories about human trafficking rings and human trafficking leaders. These theories unfortunately cloud the actual threat of human trafficking for many children, teens, and adults across the nation, especially those currently or formerly in foster care. SOS Children’s Villages Illinois is shedding light on the topic of human trafficking in the United States, its devastating connection to children and teens in foster care, and how we are making a difference.
What is Human Trafficking?
Though the phrase “human trafficking” has been generating much interest in the last couple months, many of us are not sure what human trafficking exactly is and its prevalence in the United States.
According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”
Globally, millions of children, teens, and adults are victims to human trafficking crimes each year. In the United States alone, the FBI estimates that more than 100,000 children and teens are victims of sex trafficking.
Misconceptions and Misunderstands of Human Trafficking
Due to recent resurgences of false information about human trafficking in the United States, there are many misconceptions floating around the internet. SOS Illinois believes that it is important to identify these facts in order to understand the actual grave impact of human trafficking on youth in care:
- Human trafficking happens all across the United States. Though many consider human trafficking to only occur in major cities, human trafficking often occurs in the suburbs, rural communities, and both wealthy and underserved towns.
- Though human trafficking can occur anywhere, major events are often locations where human trafficking occurs with greater volume, such as during the Superbowl, the Olympics, and more.
- Many human trafficking victims are afraid to reach out for help and may never feel comfortable speaking out about being a trafficking victim. Many trafficking victims are threatened or abused in order to keep their silence. There is often not an easy way to leave a trafficking situation, and many trafficked victims are fully cut off from their support networks.
The Connection Between Foster Care and Human Trafficking
As human trafficking rings and leaders often target those that are most vulnerable, youth and teens previously or presently in foster care are often sourced. In fact, the National Foster Youth Institute recently estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have been within foster care (or another part of the larger child welfare system).
A number of high-risk attributes for human trafficking are aligned with experiences of many children and teens in foster care, including:
- Children and teens with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and/or who have experienced trauma, especially those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Those who have a history of running away
- Those who have diagnosis or undiagnosed depression and behavioral conditions
- Those who are experiencing homelessness, including those who are LGBTQ+ and those who have aged out of the foster care system
- Those who are unemployed or lack a sense of security through income and/or relationships
As a result of this alarming parallel, child welfare agencies and organizations often do staff and peer training to recognize when a child or teen is being groomed for trafficking, or how to spot an active human trafficking victim.
However, at SOS Illinois, we also recognize that reducing the number of children and teens in foster care who fall victim to trafficking rings means stabilizing and strengthening everyone in our care.
Creating Different Outcomes for Children and Teens in Foster
Though the rate of those who are trafficking victims and were also in foster care is worrisome, SOS Illinois believes that we all have the capacity to build a stronger future for children and teens. As our unique model of care focuses on creating stability, several of our programs and services directly aid in reducing or alleviating the attributes that make a child or teen a high-risk trafficking victim. Among these programs and services are:
Sibling Foster Care Program: Our professional Foster Parent model, in which a professionally-trained Foster Parent serves within a Village home, makes our Sibling Foster Care Program possible. While 75% of all siblings in foster care are separated, SOS Illinois focuses on keeping siblings together. Children and teens who share a foster care home with siblings are more likely to feel comforted and attached to their family, reducing the likelihood of a child or teen running away. Additionally, this model provides the type of stability that often isn’t available in traditional models of foster care, where children frequently change placements. Without disruptions in care, a child or teen is less likely to be underserved and therefore has a lower risk of risky behaviors that may lead to becoming a victim.
College Bound and Beyond Program: Access to supportive education is of significant importance at SOS Illinois. While less than 50% of teens in traditional foster care graduate high school, SOS Illinois has celebrated a 100% high school graduation rate for the last fifteen years. This increased focus on education and pursuing successful tracks in college or careers means our youth ore more likely to earn degrees and gain meaningful and fulfilling employment. This stability in academics and careers reduces the likelihood of SOS Illinois alums experiencing homelessness or the income insecurity that may be exploited by human trafficking rings to earn new members.
On-Site Staff Case Management and Clinical Therapists: Alongside our dedicated Foster Parents, our Care Management Team (consisting of Child Welfare Specialists, Supervisors, and Clinical Therapists) ensure that each child and teen in our care have the well-rounded support needed to navigate the child welfare system. Child Welfare Specialists and Supervisors work as case aids, working on the permanency (“forever home”) plans for each child and teen at SOS Illinois, acting as the liaison between the agency and the court system, as well as the agency and the biological parent(s). Additionally, our on-site clinical therapists work regularly with children and teens overcoming trauma and other adverse experiences to create a pathway towards hope and healing. This increased safety and emotional stability reduces vulnerable feelings in the children and teens we serve and lessens the likelihood of them being taken advantage of by those in trafficking circles promising safety and comfort.
These programs, as well as our other programs, are steadfast in ensuring that no child in our care is in immediate danger of trafficking or other human rights violations that youth in their circumstances can face.
Help Keep Children and Teens in Foster Care Safe
The success of these programs, and all the successes at SOS Illinois, are the result of your support and friendship. Looking to make an even larger impact on keeping children and teens in foster care safe? By making an online gift today, you enable us to continue doing the groundbreaking work that helps us to build the future of foster care without fear of outside dangers.