Child Sex Trafficking: How foster parents can help

January 11, 2018

Child sex trafficking is child abuse, and it can impact children of all genders, races, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Children and teens who have been in foster care are more likely than their peers to become victims of child sex trafficking. With this in mind, what can a foster parent do to help prevent child sex trafficking? Oftentimes, you can help to protect the vulnerable children and teens in your home by having honest and judgment-free conversations, reassuring them that you care no matter what. Foster parents should also educate themselves about child sex trafficking and its relationship with foster care.

Know the signs of child sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking victims may not talk about their experience with an adult, so it’s important to recognize the signs of abuse. High-risk indicators a child or youth may already be involved in sex trafficking:

  • A child or teen possesses money, a cell phone or other material items that cannot be explained or accounted for
  • Self-reports participation in a sexual act in exchange for shelter, transportation, drugs, alcohol, money or other items of value
  • Uses the Internet to post sexually explicit material (for example, pictures, chats, advertisements)
  • Is accompanied by an overly controlling “friend,” “partner,” or “boss”

In addition to these high-risk indicators, there are more subtle signs of child sex trafficking, including increased submissive behavior, STIs (especially in children who are younger than 14) and new tattoos or scars a young people is hesitant to explain, among many other signs. Learn more about the signs on child sex trafficking here.

Understand that young people may not tell you about the abuse or consider themselves victims. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, children and teens who have been sexually exploited may be too afraid or ashamed to tell an adult. They might feel the trusted adult won’t believe them, or they might not feel they were a victim. Much like other forms of abuse, it can take time for a child or teen to be ready to disclose their victimization even if they are living in a safe home with supportive foster or kinship family.

Know the signs and call 844-CO-4-Kids if you are concerned.

Find Training. Look for free trainings from the Child Welfare Training System. Look for trainings on developing relationships with children and teens as well as supporting normal, healthy relationships. Contact your child placement agency or county and ask them what training resources are available.

The National Center on Missing and Exploited Children has additional resources online, including a guide for parents and caregivers. Visit their website.

You dial the number. We make the call. If you are concerned that a child in your care or another young person who you know is a victim of child sex trafficking, call 844-CO-4-Kids to make a confidential report. If there is an immediate risk, dial 9-1-1. 

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