Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Family is a Forever Solution

After attending a recent conference on Human Trafficking which focused on the shortcomings of State Run Foster Care programs, I performed a progressive Google-image search for the words "Child," then "Adopted Child," and finally, "Foster Child."

I presumed a quick search on Google would reflect an interesting social thought or emotion on the issue. The search for "Child" showed me pictures of innocence and joy; "Adopted Child" gave me mixed-race families and happiness; but "Foster Child" showed me both innocence and isolation, smiles and tears, open arms and fetal positions. Why were negative images mixed in with foster care?
Don’t get me wrong; I realize that a Google search is one step below Wikipedia on information credibility, but my little social experiment got me thinking about the importance of stable families for children.
Many credible organizations, including The National Council For Adoption (NCFA), actively promote the safe, stable, and loving forever families for every child. However they are assembled, loving families provide safety, warmth, love, shelter, support, encouragement, and social interaction-things that all children deserve. That is why organizations like NCFA have a clear focus on the positive, loving permanent placement of children in loving family homes. One of the most compelling reasons for this is the fact that human trafficking iss so common among children in foster care and often occurs among adopted children if appropriate reviews, supports, and laws are not available or enforced.
Keep in mind that perspective is important. Recently, the House Ways & Means, Human Resource Subcommittee held a hearing on "Preventing and Addressing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care." At the hearing, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York shared that most of the 400,000 children in the US foster care system are in loving and safe family settings. Families who have opened their hearts and homes to children who need them. Without diminishing the weight of this issue, keep in mind we are discussing the thousands of children who are NOT in these "centers of safety" and the dangers they face.
Human Trafficking was also addressed at 43rd Annual Congressional Black Caucus meeting where a presentation entitled, "Modern Day Slavery: Human Trafficking in America" was presented by Representative Sheila Jackson. There, a panel spoke about a system that sometimes fails to protect its dependents, though ironically its primary goal is to remove children from unsafe environments.
While I remain skeptical of all statistics related to human trafficking, some credible research was presented at this forum. For instance, in New York 85% of trafficked minors have either a social services or foster care background, while the national number is close to 60% of trafficked youth. 
One has to wonder if it was the foster system itself that provided a segue for children to become victims of trafficking-or vice versa-if trafficked and high-risk youth were put into the foster care system. Which comes first? The answer is simple: both are true. Remember, this is human trafficking. There are no set rules or "normal" means of engagement.
The unfortunate combination perpetuates the cycle for victims and makes this problem all the more difficult to solve. The entire premise seems to boil down to one descriptor: vulnerability.
Children’s dependency makes them highly susceptible to coercion. Add to that traumatic and sometimes indefinite transitions into placement, and the vulnerability increases. At the "Preventing and Addressing Sex Trafficking of Youth in Foster Care" hearing, Withelma Pettigrew, a previous foster child and trafficked survivor, testified that foster children like herself have difficulty creating meaningful and positive relationships, become accustomed to isolation, and are often not involved in making their own life decisions (location, social workers, schools, activities, friends etc.) A perpetual state of mental and physical transition like this only heightens their vulnerability to manipulative and dangerous exploiters. The foster care system can make it seem normal and acceptable that their lives be unstable and they may accept the dangers of trafficking as one more hard transition – making them far too easy a target. Congressman Erik Paulsen of Minnesota quoted the Chicago Tribune; "Because many girls in foster care feel starved for a sense of family, experts say it is not uncommon for pimps to target group homes."
Of course, many dedicated professionals-representatives, judges, lawyers, social workers, agencies, advocates, and others are beginning to understand this dangerous network and are working to reduce the correlation between foster care and human trafficking. Every effort should be made to keep children safe while in foster care, this is essential. However, while safe foster care is important, it is only an interim solution.
Family is the forever solution. A loving, stable, permanent family and support system are the best protection and the best preventative measure to keep children out of particularly vulnerable environments. It’s important to review, educate, prepare, and support families to ensure that every child not only has a family, but thrives there. A permanent, nurturing forever family is the best solution to Human Trafficking - and many other societal ills. Let's not lose sight of that.

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