Experts Say Georgia’s Foster Care Failures Often Lead to Child Sex Trafficking

November 6, 2023
2 mins read
Experts Say Georgia's Foster Care Failures Often Lead to Child Sex Trafficking

Georgia youths in the custody of the state’s foster care system are disproportionately likely to become victims of child sex trafficking, several experts in the subject testified Monday.

Between 2018 and last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 2,400 reports of children missing from foster care in Georgia involving 1,790 children, many of whom went missing several times throughout the year, Samantha Sahl, supervisor of the national nonprofit’s Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Services Team, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee at a hearing in Atlanta.

Of those missing children, 410 were identified as likely child sex trafficking victims, she said.

Sahl and other witnesses blamed the trend on children who run away from horrendous conditions they suffer in foster care settings resulting from systemic failures by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS).

“We know we have an urgent issue when children feel better on the streets or with a trafficker than they do in their foster-care placements,” Sahl said.

Monday’s hearing on conditions in Georgia’s foster care system was the third in the last two weeks held by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Human Rights, chaired by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. At the first hearing, Ossoff revealed the results of a DFCS internal audit that showed the agency failed in 84% of cases brought to its attention to address risks and safety concerns.

The second hearing as well as Monday’s testimony focused on the number of children under DFCS supervision who end up missing.

DFCS officials responded to the first two hearings with a letter accusing the subcommittee of failing to request information or responses from DFCS in advance of the hearings and charging the panel’s investigation has been political in nature.

On Monday, Brian Atkinson, a staff lawyer with The Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic at the University of Georgia’s School of Law, said his experience shows entry into Georgia’s foster care system puts children at risk of being trafficked.

“If a child’s caregiver, family, friends, communities, and the state fail to provide for their basic needs of food, shelter, safety, security, love, their survival instincts kick in and they search for other ways to have those needs met, heightening their risk of landing straight in the hands of traffickers,” he said.

Tiffani McLean-Camp, 19, gave personal testimony Monday of her experiences when she entered foster care at age 15 after being physically abused by adoptive parents and sexually abused by a family friend. She said the abuse continued while she was moved to various placements 20 times.

McLean-Camp said one of those placements was in a facility with a gate surrounded by barbed wire. where she was physically abused and overmedicated.

“It felt like being in prison,” she said. “It made me feel like an animal locked up in a cage.”

After she became pregnant and her son was born prematurely, McLean-Camp said she and her infant son were separated at times and then placed in an emergency shelter where she got no attention for post-partum depression or physical complications from her pregnancy.

She said she got no visits from her DFCS case manager and received no help from the agency.

“I had to learn everything on my own,” she said. “I had to teach myself.”

“No child should have to go through the experiences you have survived,” Ossoff told McLean-Camp following her testimony.

Atkinson said he believes the foster care system has made progress in embracing the concept of treating children who fall prey to sex trafficking as victims and not criminals. But he said too many victims still are cast in a negative light, which makes them less likely to get the help they need.

“When our clients reach out to DFCS, they’re met with disbelief, dismissiveness, and often no response at all,” he said.

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