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Washington Beat: House Committee Hearing Focuses On Plight Of Foster Youth

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In Washington on Wednesday, a congressional committee held a hearing on ways to prevent the nation's 400,000 foster children from falling prey to the sex trade.
Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.

The House Ways and Means Committee is usually focused on tax policy, but on Wednesday, a subcommittee took up the plight of foster youth, focusing on ways to keep vulnerable foster children from becoming victims of sex trafficking.

"Many are not aware that modern-day slavery occurs right here in the United States, as ranking member Doggett has mentioned." said Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. "The problem is very real, especially among vulnerable youth in the child welfare system."

"In my home state of New York, 85 percent of trafficking victims have prior child welfare involvement," said Rep. Louise Slaughter of Rochester, N.Y. "To say that I'm completely appalled and embarrassed by that number is an understatement."

During the hearing, four members of Congress who have worked on foster care issues served as witnesses, telling the committee that Congress can do more to protect foster children from predators.

"Mr. Chairman, across this country, we have 5,000 shelters for animals. I've gotten one of my three Dalmatians from an animal shelter. I love those places," Poe said. "But in the whole country, according to Shared Hope International, there are only 226 beds for minor sex trafficked victims. We can do a lot better."

The Congress members shared with the committee their efforts to combat trafficking. Among the proposals include training child protective services workers to identity and help foster children at high risk of being targeted, and treating child victims of sex trafficking as victims instead of offenders.

"The idea that a young person rescued from a sex trafficking operation could be considered an offender within the juvenile justice system is shocking to me, and to you as well, I'm sure," Slaughter said.

It's not clear which of the proposals will ultimately find its way to the president's desk, but the members said that talking about the issue is a significant starting point.

"The days of boys being boys in this country are over when it comes to exploitation of our children, and the long arm of the law needs to go after these consumers," Poe said.

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