New Report Urges The California Child Welfare Council Play a Major Role in Multi-System Collaboration
Every day on streets and in neighborhoods across the county, thousands of children are coerced into performing sex for hire. Once thought to be only an international problem, the commercial sexual exploitation of America’s youth is both rampant and growing. Of particular concern here at Young Minds is the commercial sexual exploitation of foster youth—children already traumatized by abuse or neglect and separation from their families. These children are especially vulnerable to victimization: studies estimate that between 50 and 80 percent of commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) are or were formally involved with the child welfare system.
A new report, written by Kate Walker, Equal Justice Works fellow and attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, and edited by Young Minds’ attorneys Patrick Gardner and Wesley Sheffield, entitled “Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Call for Multi-System Collaboration in California,” emphasizes that the child welfare system is uniquely positioned to provide prevention and early intervention services, and urges the California Child Welfare Council to take a leadership role in a multi-system collaborative response to this problem.
“Rather than criminalizing these children and funneling them into the juvenile justice system, California’s child welfare system, which is designed to protect and serve children and families who experience abuse and neglect, is the more appropriate system to support exploited children,” said Walker.
According to the report, exploitation can start as young as the age of ten. Some of these children are brutally beaten and raped. Others are literally stolen off the streets, then isolated, drugged, and starved until they become “willing” participants. Yet, under existing law and policies, these children are routinely arrested and held in juvenile detention facilities despite being victims of dehumanizing crimes.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion worldwide industry that involves an estimated 100,000 children in the U.S. The FBI has determined that three of the nation’s thirteen High Intensity Child Prostitution areas are located in California.
The report recommends that the Council create a CSEC Action Committee, jointly chaired by Secretary Dooley and a representative from a community-based advocacy organization that works with exploited children. The Committee would be charged with overseeing implementation of the recommendations put forth in the report.
Other key recommendations include:
1. Establish safe, secure and specialized homes for exploited children and children at risk
2. Help health care professionals create new “cross screening” tools to identify both victims and children at risk
3. Mandate special training for professionals working with these children and other “child serving” systems to identify vulnerable individuals
4. Create more knowledge about this issue by developing ways to collect and share data about these victims across the state and county systems
The Report will be presented at the Child Welfare Council’s quarterly public meeting on March 6th at the Administrative Office of the Courts in San Francisco. The recommendations will be discussed at the March meeting, and voted on for adoption at the Council’s next meeting in June.
Young Minds’ efforts to combat commercial sexual exploitation of young people involves increasing the visibility of sex trafficking, building a constituency for action, engaging key decision-makers, and developing and executing an agenda that focuses on meeting the particular needs of at-risk young people. We believe that the release of this report is the first of many steps needed to curtail, and ultimately eliminate, this abusive industry.
Much of the anti-trafficking efforts around the country to date have been focused on the juvenile and criminal justice systems; a cops and robbers approach that often locks up victims like criminals. A child welfare approach is advantageous because it emphasizes the status of sexually exploited children as victims and promotes prevention and harm avoidance for foster youth who are often targeted by exploiters because of their vulnerability and accessibility.
For more information about the upcoming Council meeting click here. Also, please visit our Policy and Programs page dedicated to the prevention of commercial sexual exploitation of foster children for more information about our work to address this harrowing problem, and to read the full report.