Did you know that being a foster child or otherwise in the care of child protective services is a risk factor for being a victim of domestic minor sex trafficking?

In 2013, 60 percent of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of an FBI nationwide raid from more than 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes. Many of these children were sexually abused, which is another risk factor for being trafficked.

And finally, being a runaway, throwaway or otherwise homeless is the third risk factor for children being targeted by traffickers.

According to a publication by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau, “A number of research and newspaper articles have pointed to the fact that traffickers target youth in foster care because of their increased vulnerability. … Traffickers exploit the fact that youth in foster care – or those who have run away from care – may have unmet needs for family and emotional relationships.”

May is National Foster Care Month, and I encourage churches to take this opportunity to find ways to strengthen foster families so that children will be less vulnerable to traffickers.

The goal of National Foster Care Month is to recognize foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals and others who help foster children find permanent homes.

According to facts from the Foster Coalition, about 400,000 children are in the foster care system. They spend about three years in the foster care system waiting to be adopted.

About 55 percent of these children have experienced three different placements. It is so important that foster children find permanent homes.

Foster care children age out when they turn 18 or 21, depending on the state, or when they finish high school.

When they age out, they have increased risks for negative outcomes. They are more likely to experience homelessness, unemployment and poor educational outcomes, according to AdoptUSKids.

Teenagers still need love and encouragement throughout their lives, and you can learn about adopting teenagers here.

It is important to raise awareness of the children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted. Here are two ways that you and your church can do so:

1. Spread the word about National Foster Care Month.

There are multiple resources at ChildWelfare.gov that you can use to do so. Helping these children find a forever home will reduce their vulnerability to traffickers.

2. Explore the various ways to help foster children.

The Foster Coalition lists more than 30 ways you can help foster children. These opportunities include adopting a foster child, becoming a mentor or even building and donating a bike. Every action counts.

Pam Strickland is the founder of Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. She is a member of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina. You can connect with the organization via their website, Facebook page and Twitter account @enc_stop.

Kendall Coker is public relations intern at ENC Stop Human Trafficking.

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