Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth held a bipartisan Capitol Hill briefing focused on strengthening the child welfare response to trafficking. The invited panelists included Jessi Leigh Swenson, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Human Rights for Girls, Carol Smolenski, Executive Director at ECPAT-USA, Tina Frundt, former child trafficking victim and Founder of Courtney's House, Tammy Sneed of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, and Stephanie Richards from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). Panelists spoke of the important role Congress can play in assisting the child welfare system, via legislation to address trafficking among the foster youth population. Caucus Co-Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) welcomed the panelists and attendees and offered a brief overview of her bill, H.R. 2730, Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking.
Leigh Swenson discussed the national advocacy work of Human Rights for Girls and others who are part of a broader coalition to address trafficking of foster youth. The other groups represented on the panel, shared insight on some of the unique services that their agencies provide for trafficked youth. Sneed described two Connecticut laws that specifically address children who are trafficked Public Act 10-115 and Public Act 11-180. Together these laws ensure that children under sixteen cannot be charged with prostitution, and officers report suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families when they arrest a young person for prostitution, but who may actually be a victim of trafficking.
Currently the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) is the only comprehensive (although it doesn’t address youth in care) federal statute that protects victims of trafficking. Both the House and Senate have introduced reauthorizing language, but like HR 2730, these bills remain stalled.