Youth Homelessness and Human Trafficking
Youth Homelessness Matters Day (YHMD) is April 18th. YHMD is a national campaign, held annually since 1990, aimed at raising awareness of youth homelessness amongst decision makers and the wider community. YHMD is a project of the National Youth Coalition for Housing.
As human beings, we are born with the desire to be loved, and to have stability and consistency in our lives. Growing up we are able to become less dependent on the care of others and become capable of supporting ourselves emotionally, physically and financially. Children are supposed to grow up in an environment where they are loved and cared for; where they are safe. Sadly, this is not always the case and that is why the foster care system was implemented. However, through research and studies, statistics have shown that there is a strong correlation between the foster care system and human trafficking. In the United States, 60% of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system. These children have most likely been neglected and/or abused, making them extremely vulnerable to being victims of human trafficking, as they are easily coerced and manipulated.
Group homes are, “any care facility that houses six or more children.” These homes are designed for children who are in the foster care system and have no relative or family member available to be a guardian to care for them. It is not uncommon for children in group homes to be physically and/or sexually abused. Luckily, there have been stricter federal regulations enforced, but the abuse can still occur. A lot of times, operators of the group homes will cut back on food, clothes, and education in hopes to make a profit off of the money they are receiving from the government. This method of using the children just for a paycheck can have a strong, negative impact on them. It programs the youth to believe that they are not worthy of love, commonly resulting in the children becoming extremely vulnerable. Because of the trauma that these children experienced, they are easily coerced and manipulated by false promises such as love and family. Not all group homes are like this, but the children who are living in these conditions find their escape in turning to the streets.
Youth homelessness and modern day slavery are deeply connected, and sadly homelessness is very common in the foster care system. In the United States, there are up to 300,000 children involved in human trafficking. Of those 300,000 children, about 60% have a history in the child welfare system. Whether it is a runaway case or the children have aged out of the system, they are highly susceptible to being manipulated into the trafficking system. Homeless youth are in situations where basic physical needs such as food, shelter, and safety are not things that they can count on. So, when the opportunity to have these things presents itself, it is almost impossible to say no. Before they know it, they are trading their bodies and freedom for food and shelter.
The foster care system is supposed to protect our youth who are not given the circumstances they deserve. Yet, the statistics show that children in the system are at high risk of being trafficked. Whether they are psychologically or emotionally coerced, or falsely promised safety and basic needs, they should never have been in that position in the first place. They should not have to be in a position where they are on the streets wondering where their next meal will come from, or where they will sleep that night. They should not be in a position where their idea of love is neglect and abuse.
There are many faults in the foster care system and as a society, it is important to understand what we can do to protect our youth. We can start by campaigning for more training in identifying red flags in careers that are more likely to have an interaction with a human trafficking situation. Careers such as law enforcement, flight attendants, group home leaders, hotel staff, teachers and people in the medical field etc. We can advocate and raise awareness by starting conversations with people about the dangers, signs and reasons that come with human trafficking. These conversations are extremely important, because even if there is the slightest chance that they will encounter a human trafficking situation, supplying them with the knowledge to identify and report it could be life-saving. We can also demand change in policies that enforce stricter background checks on caregivers and implement laws that do a better job of protecting our youth.
These children did not choose this path that life has taken them on, and it is important to remember that it is not their fault. The system that is meant to protect them, has failed them.
About the Author
Olivia Kyles is a Junior at Northern Arizona University pursuing a degree in Marketing with a minor in Spanish. She finds her peace in helping others and is so excited to be working with Dressember helping to fight against modern day slavery. She loves to run, has a passion for animals and is obsessed with literature and movies based off of the roaring 20s!