Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss programs administered by the Administration for Children and Families which may offer avenues for providing services to U.S. citizen children and youth who are victims of human trafficking in the United States. The Administration for Children and Families is intimately familiar with the horrors associated with human trafficking. Our agency, under the direction of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, has responsibility for administering provisions from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for tracking and certifying non-citizen trafficking victims and helping them access the benefits and services they need to rebuild their lives. Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery and whether the victims are citizens or non-citizens, is a scourge on society.
I am the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau within the Administration for Children and Families and am responsible for assisting States in the delivery of child welfare services designed to protect children and strengthen families. I would like to spend my time today discussing some of the child welfare programs that could serve domestic trafficking victims. I also will discuss service outlets that are available through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, another program administered by the Administration for Children and Families in the Family and Youth Services Bureau.
Before discussing the services provided by these programs, I would like to share some background on what we know about child victims that may include domestic victims of human trafficking in the U.S.
The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART 2) published by the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, in 2002, estimated that there were 1.6 million youth who had experienced a runaway/thrownaway episode in 1999. Of these youth, 1.1 million or 71 percent could have been endangered during their runaway/thrownaway episode by virtue of factors such as substance dependency, use of hard drugs, sexual or physical abuse, presence in a place where criminal activity was occurring, or because of their extremely young age (13 years old or younger). An estimated 40,000 runaways/thrownaways were at risk of sexual endangerment or exploitation by one or more of the following characteristics or behaviors during the episode: the youth was sexually assaulted, there was an attempted sexual assault of the youth, the youth was in the company of someone known to be sexually abusive, or the youth engaged in sexual activity in exchange for money, drugs, food or shelter.
In 2000, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released a report entitled, Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth. The report indicated that little is known about the incidence of “traveler cases” (where adults or youth travel to meet and have sex with someone they first came in contact with on the Internet), or any completed Internet seduction and Internet sexual exploitation cases, including trafficking in child pornography.
We know these very serious victimizations occur and that law-enforcement officials are tracking down an ever-increasing number of such victims. In 2000, an informal survey of the FBI, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, newspapers, and other law-enforcement sources identified almost 800 cases, confirmed or under investigation, involving adults traveling to or luring youth they first met on the Internet for criminal sexual activities. Further, we are acutely aware of this problem based upon ongoing meetings and communication between Family and Youth Services Bureau staff and the FBI Office for Victim Assistance (OVA) staff that I will discuss in more detail later in my testimony.
The Children’s Bureau (CB) is the oldest Federal agency for children. The Bureau provides grants to States, Tribes and community organizations to operate a range of child welfare services including child protective services (child abuse and neglect) family preservation and support, foster care, adoption and independent living program services.
When citizen children are victims of trafficking, a State child welfare agency might become involved under the following scenarios:
• If a child is discovered to have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation by a parent or primary caregiver, the State agency would most likely take custody of the child. However, some State child welfare agencies are responding in cases of child sexual abuse or exploitation even when the perpetrator is NOT a parent or primary caregiver.
• When minors are transported across State lines for the purpose of illegal adoption (“selling” babies), State agencies also may have a role in taking temporary custody until a suitable caretaker is found. If a private adoption agency is involved in the trafficking and selling of a child, the State could suspend or revoke its license to operate.
• Once a child who has been trafficked enters State custody, he or she would receive a variety of services, including medical and psychological examination and treatment, counseling, foster family or group home placement, and coordination with law enforcement and the courts for his or her return to appropriate caregivers or placement into a permanent adoptive home.
The Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) provides services under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which assist runaway and homeless youth. Through the programs for runaway and homeless youth, we work to establish and strengthen community-based programs that address the immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act programs provide services to children and youth who are victims of trafficking through the following programs at the community and local levels.
• Basic Center Programs are short-term emergency shelter programs that are able to address the immediate needs of runaway and homeless youth and their families. The central purpose of these programs is to provide youth with emergency shelter, food, clothing, counseling, and referrals for health care. The basic centers seek to reunite young people with their families, whenever possible, or to locate appropriate alternative placements. Furthermore, basic center programs have the capacity to provide follow-up service to youth who return home.
• The Street Outreach Program funds street-based outreach and education services for runaway and homeless youth and youth on the streets who have been, or are at risk of being, sexually abused and/or exploited. These private, nonprofit agencies conduct outreach designed to build relationships between grantee staff and street youth. The goal of these efforts is to help young people leave the streets. The local grantees provide a range of services directly or through collaboration with other agencies, specifically those working to protect and treat young people who have been, or who are at risk of being, subjected to sexual abuse or exploitation.
• The National Runaway Switchboard (NRS) is a national communications system designed to assist youth who have run away, or are considering running away, and their families. The NRS links youth and families to crisis counseling, programs and resources, and each other, as appropriate. The goal of the system is to ensure that young people in crisis have a single source of information on the help available to them. In addition, the NRS Runaway Education Program (REP) continues to educate the general public on runaway and homeless youth issues and increase awareness of available resources.
The NRS offers the following primary services to assist runaways and their families or guardians:
- A confidential, toll-free hotline. Hotline staff and volunteers provide crisis intervention counseling to runaway and homeless youth, young people who are thinking of running away or are in crisis, and their family members. The hotline operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Hotline staff responds to approximately 120,000 calls annually from throughout the United States and its Territories.
- Referrals by hotline staff to community-based programs and services across the country using an online national directory of youth-serving agencies. The NRS maintains data on more than 16,000 youth-related agencies and has access to information on 120,000 other organizations through hard-copy resource directories.
- Message delivery service between youth and their families or guardians that enables estranged parents and children to reestablish communication through a neutral third party. Parents also can leave a message for their child.
- Conference calls among parents, youth, and resource agency staff that are facilitated by hotline staff and volunteers.
Our work with the FBI’s Office for Victim Assistance provides illustrates how well services can work together with law enforcement in trafficking cases involving citizen children. OVA has been receiving an increasing number of emergency victim assistance requests for the purpose of reunifying adolescent victims of domestic trafficking with their parents/guardians. FYSB has brokered a relationship between OVA and the National Runaway Switchboard that has resulted in the establishment of a collaborative effort to refer FBI agents to the appropriate agencies in the community or nearby that can provide services to the adolescent victim and his/her parents or guardian. The agencies provide food, clothing, medical care, and counseling services for the victim and his/her family. The agency providing the services works with the adolescent victim and his/her parents/guardian to facilitate reunification services. For example, the NRS is the sole administrator of the HOME FREE Program, a collaborative effort of Greyhound Lines, Inc., and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. HOME FREE provides free bus tickets for victims and/or one family member to travel to meet the victim. Adolescents over the age of 15 can travel unaccompanied; however, the referral agencies work with the family around transportation issues.
In closing, I hope I have provided a clear snapshot of some of the services that currently are available through programs administered by the Administration for Children and Families to human trafficking victims who are citizen children. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for bringing greater attention to this important issue. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.