Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

December/January 2022Vol. 22, No. 11Continuing to Move Forward With Lessons From a National Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare

Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

Children and youth involved with child welfare-particularly those who run away from foster homes and congregate care facilities-are at increased risk of sex trafficking (Latzman & Gibbs, 2020). In 2015, responding to growing concern over this issue, the White House and the Children's Bureau within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hosted the National Convening on Trafficking in Child Welfare. This event brought together trafficking survivors, program innovators, and leaders from child welfare, the courts, and law enforcement to advance collaborative solutions and plan for implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (Capacity Building Center for States, 2015). The convening pointed to critical action steps, highlighted below, that are as relevant today in responding to sex trafficking as they were in 2015. 

Collaborate Through Cross-System Partnerships 

Preventing, identifying, and responding to sex trafficking requires a collaborative approach that leverages diverse expertise and coordinates efforts among the following:
  • Child welfare agencies
  • System partners (e.g., law enforcement, juvenile justice systems, family courts, health-care and mental health service agencies, housing services, schools)
  • Local service providers (e.g., runaway and homeless shelters, local businesses, recreation services, community groups, victim advocates)
  • Youth and young adults who have lived experience in child welfare and sex trafficking
  • Caregivers

Since 2015, many jurisdictions have formed or strengthened multidisciplinary task forces and work groups that facilitate information sharing, make recommendations for coordinated responses, align policies and practices, or share protocols for identifying and serving trafficking victims (Gibbs et al., 2019).

To advance collaborative partnerships in your state or community, explore the following resources:

Engage Survivors Meaningfully in Planning 

As with all planning efforts, involving those most familiar with the problem leads to the most insightful solutions. Survivors of sex trafficking offer vital perspectives to the development of effective approaches for preventing and responding to sex trafficking for other youth involved with child welfare.

To hear powerful firsthand accounts and insights from survivors of sex trafficking, listen to "Child Welfare Response to Child and Youth Sex Trafficking, Part 3" (CBC for States digital stories; free registration required). To learn more on approaches for meaningful engagement, read Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare (CBC for States brief).

Use Data to Inform Planning

States and counties can better understand the needs and characteristics of youth who are vulnerable to sex trafficking by examining administrative data on youth who run away and are reported to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System and on sex trafficking cases reported to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Jurisdictions can delve further by analyzing data collected across systems and by holding conversations to better understand the stories behind the numbers. 

For more information on using data to inform responses, see the following resources:
Ensure Trauma-Informed Responses

Screening, assessment, and services should be trauma informed and promote individualized and culturally appropriate care. Policies and practices that reflect understanding of the experiences of youth who have been exposed to trafficking and the impact of trauma can help support survivors in taking steps toward healing. 

Use the following resources to help build capacity for identifying sex trafficking victims and delivering trauma-informed services:
Learn and Borrow From Others

States and localities can learn from and build on what's already been done elsewhere. Find out more below:

Capacity Building Center for States. (2015). Summary: National Convening on Child Welfare. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Gibbs, D. A., Feinberg, R. K., Dolan, M., Latzman, N. E., Misra, S., & Domanico, R. (2019). Report to Congress: The child welfare system response to sex trafficking of children. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

Latzman, N. E., & Gibbs, D. (2020). Examining the link: Foster care runaway episodes and human trafficking (OPRE Report No. 2020-143). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation.