Hoping to help child welfare agencies protect children from being exploited, a bill has been introduced in the House that's aimed at improving the reporting and response to victims of child sex trafficking.
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The Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2014, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass (D-California) and Rep. John Kline (R-Minnesota), would ensure that child welfare agencies have systems in place to properly identify, document and serve child victims of trafficking, according a news release by the congresswoman's office.
Out of 72 cases reviewed by the FBI of sex exploitation of minors in Los Angeles County, 56 had a connection to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), officials said.
"For the last 18 months we've gotten about 478 calls, 72 percent of those are brand new," said Roberta Media of the DCFS. "These are kids that have never been involved in the system before."
DCFS said it has begun the process of tracking these children. Next month, the department said a new program will be introduced to help prevent children from being victimized twice. For example, if picked up for prostitution, children will receive other services instead of being sent to detention centers.
"We are currently in the process of establishing what's called the First Responders Protocol, so it has all of the county entities together to be able to pick up these survivors," Media said.
"Basically they are running away from home to home because the child welfare or the foster care parents don't know how to deal with them," said Ima Matul, who runs the survivors group for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).
Matul said children as young as 11 are often threatened with death or harm to their family members.
"Oftentimes the only people that are involved in their lives are people that are paid to be involved in their lives," Bass said.
A report by the California Child Welfare Council shows a 7-year life expectancy from the first day they are taken in. The leading causes of death are AIDS, HIV and homicide.
Matul hopes the new legislation, which calls more training for service workers, will help DCFS.
"What they can do better is train themselves and their staff how to identify children and how to help them," she said.