The Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Issues and Human Services held a joint hearing on Monday revealing that there is a connection between sex and human trafficking and the state’s foster care system.
Several representatives from state agencies took the stand this week, revealing shocking statistics to prove that children in Texas foster care are the most vulnerable to be recruited as a sex slave.
“The people in East Texas want to see something done now,” State Rep. James White, R-Woodville said. “If you know where these places are, just go today. Shut them down today. We don’t have to wait for the legislature to gavel in and do more.”
Angela Goodwin, Director of Investigation with Child Protective Services says in the fiscal year 2016, there were 973 children in Texas foster care who were reported “missing”.
She says only 633 of those kids have been found, and several dozen of which reported that they had been sex trafficked.
“We stress with our staff the urgency,” Goodwin said. “That they have to report right away to local law enforcement. They have to assign it to one of our special investigators who are former law enforcement immediately. This is in our protocol and our policy that we train our staff, that these cases are urgent and have a sense of urgency.”
Lawmakers pressed the testimony on why nothing is being done immediately and why state agencies aren’t knocking on doors trying to locate these children right now. Some pointed out the timing of this hearing—on a week where families should be together giving thanks, nearly 300 children are still missing.
“We are just thinking about in financial year 16 for DFPS, 32 kids were recovered that self proclaimed that they had been victims of sex trafficking,” Dixie Hairston, the Anti-Trafficking Coordinator at Children at Risk said. “We don’t even have enough beds for those kids.”
Hairston says the problem goes beyond just finding these kids. She says there are only 26 beds across the entire state of Texas for any child that needs to go to a foster care placement that has been trafficked. There are 350 beds across the united states.
“With 26 beds across the state of Texas for these kids,” Hairston said. “What we need to do right now is figure out a way that we can get these kids services as soon as they are recovered.”
Hairston says the lack of resources means that these kids end up placed in other state programs that are not appropriate for the trauma they have experienced.
“This is happening to the most vulnerable children in our community,” Hairston said. “If law enforcement goes out, they do a sting operation and they do recover a child, where are they going to take them after they recover them. There are just not those places out there.”
Child safety groups such as Children at Risk are asking lawmakers to further fund CPS to it can hire specialized caseworkers who deal with only foster kids who have been sex trafficked.