Spotlight On Understanding Trafficking Risk Among Young People in Care

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June Spotlight on Header

Understanding Trafficking Risk Among Young People in Care


Child welfare systems are critical in preventing and responding to human trafficking among youth and children. Research has linked the human trafficking of youth and young adults, defined as exploitation in forced labor or commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion, with prior instances of child maltreatment or exposure to the foster care system[1]. Despite this association, more research is needed to differentiate the factors that cause children and youth to come into care from the same factors and experiences that make them more vulnerable to trafficking[2].

Trafficking disproportionately affects marginalized communities and youth disconnected from stable support networks. This includes children and youth in care, youth who have left home due to family conflict or other crises, youth experiencing poverty or housing instability, and unaccompanied minors, among others, who are at greater risk[2]. Exploiters manipulate vulnerable young people's needs for love, acceptance, stability, food, clothing, and shelter[3].

Child welfare agencies can be more effective in their prevention efforts when they better understand the context, scope, and risks of human trafficking among youth in their care[2].


  • Systemic oppression and societal stigma create social and economic inequities that can make some populations more vulnerable to human trafficking than others[4].
  • LGTBQIA2S+ youth[9] (ages 13 to 24) represented nearly half of all youth in a study conducted in six geographically dispersed U.S. cities with youth in the sex trade. Seventy percent of these youth identified their race and ethnicity as Black/African American[4].
  • LGBTQIA2S+ youth, who are more likely to experience homelessness, family rejection, and acts of sexual violence than their peers,[5] are also disproportionally victimized by sex trafficking[6].
  • Given their lack of support systems, limited knowledge of their host country’s language and culture, and precarious legal status, unaccompanied children are at greater risk for labor and sex trafficking[7].
  • Despite recent state and federal mandates to improve and unify reporting practices, there are still no credible estimates on the full scale or prevalence of sex or labor trafficking[2].

Dash of Data

In an effort to better understand the link between foster care, human trafficking, and the factors that make them more vulnerable, the Survey of Youth Transitioning From Foster Care (SYTFC)[8]. collected information from youth currently and formerly in foster care. The survey gathered firsthand information from, “335 youth at increased risk of human trafficking in the child welfare system based on their demographic characteristics, maltreatment allegations, and removal and placement history”[1].

Out of the SYTFC youth participants, approximately 40 percent had either self-reported experiences of human trafficking or trafficking allegations reported in the child welfare administrative data provided by states before the age of 18[1]. The infographic below explores some of the study’s key findings.

Dash of Data Graphic


The Capacity Building Center for States (Center) has several resources to help agencies increase their capacity to promote youth resilience, build support systems for at-risk youth, and implement a prevention approach to human trafficking.

Center Resources

Sextrafficking Publication

 Related Resources

Advancing Healthy Outcomes

Related Organizations

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