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The Foster Care System and Human Trafficking

By Katie Sechrist

The FBI estimates that 100,000 children in the U.S. are trafficked and 60% of those children were in the child welfare system. Why are children in the foster care system so clearly linked to human trafficking?

Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking, however one consistent factor makes an individual susceptible to being targeted: vulnerability. Children in the foster care system seldom have a support system and skills to discern what is appropriate and what is not, and often lack a good example of what a trusted adult looks like. Without having consistent responsible caregivers accountable for their safety, children take it upon themselves to make decisions independently. Abuse and coercion has often been a normal way of life for foster children and they have learned to adapt to that environment.

The culture of human trafficking can therefore be familiar and become somewhat comfortable to a child who has never known stability or healthy relationships. Exploiters seek out children with this kind of trauma history, knowing it will be easier to control this vulnerable population. Individuals who have run away from group homes, experience depression, hopelessness, trauma histories, or homelessness, and LGBTQ youth are all vulnerable demographic factors that become targets for human trafficking.

How can you help?

Support. Support. Support. The best way to protect vulnerable children is to support them and their families.

Do you know a family that is struggling to maintain stability in their home and for their children? Reach out and provide breaks, dinner, a listening ear, wisdom, or guidance. Do you know someone fostering a child? Offer your time and support in similar ways. Have children of your own? Educate them on the red flags and warning signs of human trafficking or toxic relationships. When we educate our children, awareness spreads to their friends and the people around them. Have extra time on your hands? Consider mentoring a foster child of your own. Educate foster parents on the risk of human trafficking in the lives of the children they are impacting.

Each year, 23,000 children will age out of the U.S. foster care system. Only half of them will have some form of employment by the age of 24 and 20% will become homeless. By providing support and guidance to children aging out of the system we can provide the stability and resources they need to be successful as they navigate into adulthood. Together we can protect our nation’s children from this tragic industry. We each have a role!

The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and trainings at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to

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