Examining The Link: Foster Care Runaway Episodes And Human .

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RESEARCH BRIEFExamining the Link: Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human TraffickingNatasha E. Latzman & Deborah A. Gibbs, RTI InternationalOPRE Report #2020-143October 2020Children and youth who run from foster care placements are a growing concern among policymakers andpractitioners.1,2 A large number of youth in foster care run away from their placement at least once, and manydo multiple times. Running from care is associated with a range of serious negative consequences, includinghuman trafficking victimization.This brief summarizes and builds on a 2019 report to Congress, The Child Welfare System Response to SexTrafficking of Children.3 In this brief, we first discuss the number of youth who run from foster care, factors thatplace youth at risk of running from care, and the evidence around running from care and sex traffickingvictimization. Where applicable, we also review the evidence around running from care and labor trafficking.We conclude with a discussion of promising efforts to reduce runaway behavior.How Many Youth Run from Foster Care?Foster CareEstimates of the number of youth who haverun from foster care vary depending on thesample populations (e.g., youth drawn fromchild welfare or homeless/runaway shelters),methods employed (e.g., child welfareadministrative data, youth self-report), anddefinitions of running from care.4 For example,some child welfare agencies report any youthwho leaves a placement without consent asmissing or having run from care, whereasothers report youth as missing only after theyare absent from care without consent for aminimum period, such as 24 hours.5,6 Despitethese variations, both administrative and selfreport data indicate that youth in care run fromplacements fairly frequently—more often thantheir peers in the general population run fromhome.Each year, almost half a million youth in the UnitedStates experience foster care placements, primarilyin family foster care settings (nonrelative foster care,relative foster care, or pre-adoptive homes) inaddition to group and residential care or otherplacements such as visitation or a short-term hospitalstay.7National data on the foster care populationshow that 1% of youth in foster care werereported as being on runaway status at theend of 2018.8 However, this figure capturesonly those youth who were on runaway statusat the end of the report period, but not youthwho ran away at some other point during theyear. Indeed, sources that look at data overlonger periods of time (such as the entirety ofa youth’s stay in foster care) suggest the

Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human TraffickingHuman Trafficking Defined Sex trafficking is a commercial sex act (as definedby the Trafficking Victims Protection Act; TVPA)induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which theperson induced to perform such act has notattained 18 years of age. Labor trafficking consists of the recruitment,harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining ofa person for labor or services through the use offorce, fraud, or coercion for the purpose ofsubjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debtbondage, or slavery.aprevalence of runaway episodes is muchhigher. For example, a recent analysis of childwelfare administrative data from Florida foundthat approximately 19% of youth ran from careat least once during their stay in care.6 Selfreport data show even higher estimates, withup to half of youth in foster care reportingrunning away at least once, and many youthreporting running multiple times.9-11 Forexample, a study of 17-year-olds in foster carein Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin found that 46%reported having run away from a foster careplacement at least once.10 Similarly, a study ofyouth in specialized foster care, a placementmodel typically used for youth with severeemotional or behavioral issues, found that44% ran away at least once while in care.12Factors AssociatedRunaway BehaviorwithIncreasedResponse and prevention require anunderstanding of the population at risk. Agrowing body of literature has identified riskand protective factors associated with runningfrom foster care, and trends in these factorsover the past 2 decades.Age. Some studies have found that thelikelihood of running away—and length ofepisodes—increases with age.5,13-17 In fact,Division A of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,Public Law 106-386, is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), whichhas been amended in reauthorizations.a2adolescence is marked by a developmentalincrease in risk-taking behaviors, desire forautonomy, and salience of peer and romanticrelations.18Findings from one study indicate that the riskof running away peaks in the mid-teenageyears (14 to 16 years of age), with lower ratesof running among those younger than 14 andolder than 16.9,12 The proportion of youthrunning at younger ages appears to beincreasing, however. Data from the NationalCenter for Missing and Exploited Children(NCMEC) indicate that since 2012, reportedrunaways involving youth aged 12 to 14 yearshave increased as a percentage of all reportedfoster care runaway cases—even as this agegroup has steadily decreased as a percentageof the overall foster care population since1995.3,bSex. Generally, females appear more likely torun from foster care placements compared tomales.5,13,15-17,19,20 For example, nationalreport-level data from NCMEC show thatfemale youth made up more than three-fifthsof reported runs from foster care between2012 and 2017.3 However, sex differencesmay disappear when other factors areconsidered, such as age at the time ofplacement.6Race and Ethnicity. Most studies indicate anincreased risk of running among minority(nonwhite) youth.6,13,16 The relationshipbetween race/ethnicity and risk of running isfar from settled, however, and may ,16 Placement setting also maycomplicate this relationship, as AfricanAmerican youth are disproportionately servedin residential placements, which some studiesfound to be a risk factor for running.16NCMEC analyses reported here represent missing child reports for childrenin care of a social service agency but not the number or characteristics of therunaway children themselves.b

Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human TraffickingSexual Orientation and Gender Identity.Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, andquestioning (LGBTQ) youth are more likelythan heterosexual youth to run from home inthe general population,4,21 and preliminaryevidence suggests a similar pattern among thefoster care population.22 These findings areconsistent with large scale surveys finding thatyouth who identify as LGBTQ areoverrepresentedinthehomeless23,24LGBTQ youth may leave homepopulation.or foster care due to rejection or lack ofacceptance related to sexual orientation orgender , including alcohol use disorder, arefrequently identified as risk factors for runningfrom foster care.5,14,16 One study of youth in aresidential treatment setting found that the riskof running increased as substance useincreased but decreased when substance usebecame severe enough to have a disablingeffect, suggesting a potentially complexrelationship between substance use andrunning from care.26Mental Health. Evidence is mixed as towhether mental health diagnoses areassociated with increased risk of running fromfoster care. Some studies have found thatdiagnosed mental health conditions increasethe risk of running.14 As with substance abuse,this relationship appears to be complex, andother studies have found no association13 orlower likelihood of runaway behavior amongyouth with mental health conditions andemotional disturbances.Child Welfare Experiences. A history ofmultiple foster care placements is associatedwith running from care.5,6,13,15,19,27 In fact, everyadditional placement appears to put youth atincreased risk for a runaway episode.6,14,16Other factors associated with increased risk ofrunning from foster care include prior runawayhistory11,14,22 and placements that separatesibling groups.20 Placement in group and3residential care facilities rather than in familyor nonfamily foster care placements14 alsoappears to increase risk, although this findingmay be related to age—younger children aretypically placed in relative or foster homes,whereas older youth are more often placed ingroup and residential care.13Why Do Youth Run from Foster Care?Risk factors for running from foster care may beclassified as either “push” or “pull.”Push factors include escaping from unsafe,overcrowded, and highly restrictiveplacements, such as those with restrictionson phone calls or how to spend free time.28,29Pull factors include gaining access to family,friends, and romantic partners; maintainingconnection to a community-of-origin; gaininga sense of independence or normalcy.27,29Factors AssociatedRunaway BehaviorwithDecreasedInformation is limited on factors that canreduce incidence of running from foster care.However, several protective factors haveemerged as promising areas for furtherresearch. Placement with siblings isassociated with reduced risk of runawayepisodes.20 This association appears to varyby placement setting, with greater riskreduction for youth in foster homes versusyouth in residential facilities. Additionally, onestudy found that youth who experienced achange in their permanency plan during theirtime in foster care were 30% less likely thanother youth to run from care.11 Although thisassociation may seem paradoxical, it ispossible that changes in permanency plansrepresent child welfare agency efforts torespond to youth’s concerns, which maypromote placement stability and reducestresses that may lead to runaway behavior.11In this sense, a change in permanency plansmay reflect a youth-centered approach topromoting placement stability.

Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human TraffickingWhat Are the Consequences of Runningfrom Foster Care?Running away has been associated with avariety of serious negative consequences forall youth and may be especially harmful to thealready vulnerable population of youth infoster care. Compared to youth who have notrun from foster care, youth who have had arunaway episode have a greater likelihood ofexperiencing numerous adverse outcomes,including HIV infection,30 substance use,9andacademicunderperformance,9,31subsequent involvement with the juvenilejustice system.9,17 Research also supports anassociation between running away from homeand increased vulnerability to sexualvictimization and trafficking.4episode. Specifically, Texas’ annual FosterYouth Runaway Report indicates that over thecourse of a single year, approximately 4.5%(35 youth) of youth on runaway status reportedexperiencing sex trafficking while away fromcare.34 Studies of child welfare administrativedata from Illinois35 and Florida (see text boxbelow)6 found 17% and 7.4% of youth,respectively, were on runaway status at thetime of the recorded trafficking allegation.A recent study6 analyzed administrative data onnearly 37,000 youth aged 10 or older with at leastone foster care placement in Florida between 2011and 2017. This study found:Approximately 7% of youth had a human traffickingallegation during a runaway episode.Over 37% of those youth ran from caremore than 10 times before experiencingrecorded human trafficking victimization.Consequences Associated withRunning from Foster Care Poor healthSubstance useAcademic underperformanceJuvenile justice system involvementSexual victimization, including sex traffickingSex Trafficking Victimization. Althoughlimited, the growing body of research focusedon running away from foster care and risk ofsex trafficking is compelling. In a small sampleof 44 female youth in foster care, Reid foundthat running from care was the most common“pathway” to sex trafficking victimization,experienced by 44% of youth.32 Similarly,analysis of child welfare and juvenile justicedata from Washington state33 found that of the83 youth who were confirmed or stronglysuspected of being victims of commercialsexual exploitation, 83% had at least onerunaway episode—although it is not clearwhen the runaway episode occurred in relationto exploitation.Based on the few analyses available, as manyas one in six youth experience sex traffickingvictimization during a foster care runawayFor 70% of those youth, the first humantrafficking allegation occurred during a fostercare runaway episode.NCMEC estimates that 19% of reports ofrunaways from foster care (29% of reportsinvolving girls and 3% involving boys) areassessed to be likely victims of sex trafficking.Assessment of likely sex trafficking is basedon multiple physical and behavioral indicatorsdrawn from information reported by the socialservice or law enforcement agency making themissing child report. The following areexamples of indicators considered inassessing a youth’s risk of traffickingvictimization: disclosure by youth of sex traffickingvictimizationarrest on prostitution charges oridentification during a prostitution-relatedstingads on “escort” websites or othercommercial sex advertising platformsyouth participation in services limited tosex trafficking survivors before runningawayrecovery with a known trafficker

Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human Trafficking tattoos implying ownership, money, orcommercial sexpossession of hotel keys, prepaid cards,and/or unusual amounts of sexualparaphernaliaVictimization of Male YouthAlthough the identification of boys has increased inrecent years, they remain a small percentage ofyouth assessed as likely victims of sex trafficking.Potential reasons for this include the following:5also be true. One study found that youth infoster care with a history of sex traffickingvictimization were more likely to report runningfrom care than those without such a history.43The relationship between trafficking andrunning from care may be bidirectional, witheach factor increasing the risk of the other. Inthis sense, running from care may perpetuatea dangerous cycle of victimization andrunning.33Running from Foster Care and LaborTrafficking Boys in the general population may be morelikely than girls to be forced out of their homes byparents and therefore are less likely to bereported missing.36 Some findings suggest that male (versus female)trafficking victims are less to have older maletraffickers or “pimps,” which is a primary meansby which social services and law enforcementagencies identify likely victims.37,38Several factors may increase vulnerability totrafficking victimization among youth who runfrom foster care. Many researchers havetheorized that youth absent from foster careare even more vulnerable to human traffickingthan other runaways because they may notonly lack resources for basic needs but mayalso have fewer social resources or familyrelationships to which they can turn.28,39 Youthin foster care are also more likely than theirpeers to have other key vulnerabilities forhuman trafficking, such as a history of childmaltreatment and related experiences (e.g.,exposure to domestic violence), 0,41 Anecdotal reports fromservice providers indicate that pimps andothers who facilitate trafficking of youthspecifically target youth in foster care byoffering housing, money, drugs, and alcohol.42However, this link has not yet beenestablished in data from law enforcement orchild welfare agencies.Although evidence supports runaway behavioras a risk for sex trafficking, the reverse mayVery little research has examined the overlap betweenrunning from foster care and labor trafficking. Here’s whatwe do know: In Texas, fewer than 1% of youth who completed surveys upon recovery from runaway status reportedexperiencing labor trafficking while away.34Studies of runaway/homeless youth (not specific tofoster care) have found that 6–8% report havingexperienced labor trafficking.44,45Situations of forced labor reported byrunaway/homeless youth include forced drug dealingas well as factory, domestic, and agricultural work.44What Opportunities Exist to Reduce theRisk of Youth Running from Care?A growing body of evidence supports therelationship between running away from fostercare and sex trafficking victimization. Inrecognition of this overlap, the 2014Preventing Sex Trafficking and StrengtheningFamilies Act (Public Law 113–183) requiresthat child welfare systems take steps to reducerunaway behaviors, to collaborate with lawenforcement and other service providers tolocate runaway children and youth, and toassess risks for sex trafficking after childrenand youth return from runaway episodes.Efforts to prevent and respond to runawaybehavior represent an important opportunity toprevent sex trafficking and support childrenand youth who have experienced sextrafficking. The following section provides adiscussion of research-informed approaches

Foster Care Runaway Episodes and Human Traffickingto reducing runaway behavior, followed bypromising state- and agency-level policy andprogrammatic approaches.Research-Informed Programs. Althoughresearch on strategies to prevent running fromcare is in its infancy, several researchinformed approaches and programs showpromise. Such approaches include afunctional, behavior-analytic approach, theBehavior Analysis Services Program (BASP)46and a trauma-informed, developmentallyfocused program, Children and ResidentialExperiences (CARE).47BASP. This intervention is designed to reducerunning from placements by assessing youth’s6motivations for running, involving youth in theassessment process, and enhancing the valueof placements for adolescents.46 In a pilot test,13 youth aged 12 to 17 years with a history ofhabitual runs from foster care underwentfunctionalassessments.Intheseassessments, BASP behavior analystsworked closely with the youth to exploretriggers and underlying reasons for theirrunning. Behavior analysts and caseworkersthen implemented tailored interventions tostabilize the youth’s placements at home andin school and to meet their current and longerterm needs. Table 1 outlines exampleinterventions that were considered for youth.Table 1. Possible Research-Informed Approaches Identified for Youth in the BASP PilotCategoryPreferencestrategiesExample Interventions Introduce more preferred activity equipment and materials (e.g., workout equipment, bicycles),activities (e.g., video games, sports, music), and extracurricular activities (e.g., attendingsporting events or concerts) to increase the likelihood of youth engagement. Establish safe visitation arrangements with preferred persons (e.g., parents, siblings) to allowthe youth access to them without having to run away.Livingarrangements Incentivearrangements Train andcoachpersonnel Involve the youth in determining their preferred type of living situation or specific living setting.Arrange access to a preferred placement.Make available an array of “youth-preferred” living situations (e.g., supervised apartments,dorm-type settings) for older youth.Establish a “behavioral contract” so the youth can earn rewards based on individual targetbehaviors such as requesting permission to go places, reporting their whereabouts, not runningaway, or completing school homework. Establish allowances for assuming responsibilities around the house. Create a flexible fund for personnel to use with youth to support incentives and activities. Support older youth in their interests in exploring and getting jobs.Conduct training with caregivers, caseworkers, resource coordinators, and supervisors toenhance their ability to provide a more reinforcing approach and environment. For transition-ageyouth, this includes supporting goals such as getting an after-school job or a driver’s license. Provide training to caseworkers and supervisors on the Positive Parenting Tools to enhancetheir ability to interact with youth in ways that will more fully enga

Each year, almost half a million youth in the United . States experience foster care placements, primarily . in family foster care settings (nonrelative foster care, relative foster care, or pre-adoptive homes) in addition to group and residential care or other placements such as visitation or a short-term hospital stay. 7

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