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December/January 2015Vol. 15, No. 11Sex Trafficking and Child Welfare

Child welfare professionals are increasingly coming in contact with children and youth who may have been victims of sex trafficking, making it important that these professionals receive training to identify the signs and symptoms of trafficking. On December 31, 2013, President Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Recognizing the growing confluence of child welfare and human trafficking, the State Policy and Advocacy Reform Center (SPARC) and FirstFocus produced a research brief that explores the characteristics that make certain groups of children and youth vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual exploitation.

The brief outlines existing trafficking laws and current efforts from Congress and States to address the issue and provide services for sexually exploited children and youth. The authors note that a top characteristic of trafficking victims is a history of child abuse or sexual abuse. This history of trauma may explain the prevalence of trafficking victims with current or previous involvement with child welfare. Other child and youth populations that tend to be trafficked include children and youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ), runaway youth, and American Indian and Alaska Native children and youth—populations also disproportionately represented in child welfare.

In addition to providing information on effective screening practices and appropriate services for victims, the brief outlines the following recommendations for policies and best practices for serving victims:

  • Decriminalizing prostitution by minors
  • Increasing penalties against traffickers and customers
  • Increasing coordination among victim-serving agencies
  • Increasing funding resources to victim services
  • Providing incentives for training and reporting

Child Sex Trafficking and the Child Welfare System, by Elliott Gluck and Rricha Mathur, is available on the SPARC website at (301 KB).

Related Items

This year, Children's Bureau Express featured several resources related to the issue of human trafficking and child welfare. For more information, see the following articles:

  • "Guide to Safe Harbor for Trafficking Victims" (April 2014),
  • "Data on the Commercial Sex Economy" (June 2014)
  • "Addressing the Sexual Exploitation of Minors" (September 2014)
  • "Identifying Human Trafficking Victims" (October 2014)