Webinar presenter Eva Klain answered a number of your questions after her presentation, "Domestic Child Sex Trafficking and Children in Foster Care." Here are some of her responses.
Audience Question: What should the role of CASA volunteers be in this area?
Eva Klain: I think that CASA volunteers certainly have an important role in terms of being mindful of some of those risk factors and being mindful if there's something that catches their attention, that doesn't seem quite right. Maybe looking at some of those potential screening questions and bringing that information to the Court. CASA volunteers serve as “friends of the court” in that they are appointed by the Court and therefore have an obligation to look out for the best interest of the child and bringing that information to the court would be appropriate.
Audience Question: Have you seen any kind of studies that take a look at the provisions under the Preventing Sex Trafficking at Strengthening Families Act that indicates that it is actually preventing some of the trafficking? Are you familiar with any research on that, or is it too new?
Eva Klain: I am not familiar with any research. I think some of the provisions are just being implemented. Even though it was passed in 2014, some of those requirements like reporting to HHS or the states collecting that information from AFCARS may be just starting now. Even though some of these deadlines have passed, they don't necessarily have that information yet. But they do by this September, they're supposed to report all of that to the secretary of the HHS for reporting to Congress.
I'd keep an eye out to see when that report is released and what information it contains. But there might be some local information for jurisdictions that are implementing this and there might be some information available from the child welfare agency in your jurisdiction. There may also be some information available from NCMEC because there is the reporting requirement to them as well. I don't know if they make that information publicly available or if they collect and analyze it yet.
Audience Question: How would you recommend that advocates go about advocating for Safe Harbor Laws in their communities if there's not one currently in place?
Eva Klain: I think a lot of places have had success by building a coalition. Many jurisdictions may already have a trafficking coalition in place, so I think I would start there and see if there is one and if that is part of the efforts they're undertaking.
Maybe reaching out to some of the stakeholders, depending on what your affiliation is. Maybe reaching out to the child welfare agency seeing if there's any interest there in implementing some of those laws or maybe in the juvenile justice context, whether there are public juvenile defenders who might be interested at taking a look at some of these provisions. There are states that have passed Safe Harbor Laws but there are also those that have passed individual provisions that may be part of that overall strategy but aren't necessarily identified as a Safe Harbor Law or is part of the bigger legislative package. Maybe there are some local efforts or legislators who might have particular interest in addressing even piecemeal step-by-step progressive implementation.
Audience Question: Are you familiar with what might be being done to address undocumented youth that are found to be trafficked? Are they being brought to foster care? Do you know what is being done in that area?
Eva Klain: I am not as familiar with those provisions. There are very specific provisions that apply to youth who have been trafficked from abroad and I can certainly help direct you to those resources but that has not been a part of the work that I've done with the child welfare system although of course with everything that's happening now there are lots of efforts underway to try to identify exactly what ought to be done.
Editorial Note: Eva later provided additional information from her sources regarding this audience question: "Treatment of children and youth who lack lawful immigration status and who have been or are being trafficked is complicated. Factors such as how they entered the United States, whether they crossed the border with their parents, if they’ve encountered immigration authorities before, and more all play a role in what legal and treatment options are available. A youth found to be trafficked while in the United States should receive child welfare agency services the same way youth with status do, including foster care placement, though they may not be eligible for certain programs because of their status. “Federal” foster care is available only to a very small number of children and youth who satisfy certain requirements. Many child victims of trafficking may have suffered some form of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by their families prior to or in connection to being trafficked and return to those families may not be an option. Foreign-born children without immigration status who should not return to their families may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which has specific requirements" (https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/sij).
Audience Question: As an advocate, are there things that we can do at a local level to try to help address this issue within our community?
Eva Klain: Absolutely, there are. Researching what the service providers in your area might be doing is a start. There might be someone specifically who is providing specialized housing or some trauma-informed care and reaching out to them to see how you could become involved. Not necessarily in providing evidence-based treatment if that's not your qualification but somehow helping with the efforts that they have underway that might be advocating for legislative provisions or for more funding. Just for identification of this as an issue, especially if there are any public relations efforts going on to educate the general community. Years ago, when I was working on some issues related to statutory rape, one of the issues that we encountered especially for prosecutors of child abuse was that adolescents, in particular, are often not viewed as victims as opposed to offenders. It was just harder to get people in the public who might serve on the jury to view this as a crime against a child and really getting them to understand that these youth are not complicit in their victimization. They truly are victims and not offenders.
Audience Question: What is the responsibility of the Interstate Compact for Juveniles when a juvenile who has been a victim of human trafficking is picked up in a state other than their home state?
Eva Klain: I will honestly say that I'm not exactly clear on that. Certainly, victims of trafficking are moved between jurisdictions — that's just the nature of trafficking, but that is one of the reasons that NCJFCJ and NCMEC recommend keeping their child welfare cases open so that they can then be returned to the jurisdiction of the court and the place where they were previously in care.