Protect foster children - like me

From Gary Larson, a former foster child and a board member with Bethany Christian Services:

A recent article in The Observer (“Trafficking Bust Reveals Worries” – July 30) noted a disturbing connection between child sex trafficking and state-run foster care systems.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says it received more than 57,000 missing-child reports between 2009 and 2013. Of the children reported missing, 1 out of 7 are believed to be the victims of child sex trafficking, and two-thirds are believed to have been in the care of child welfare systems when they went missing.

As someone who spent years in the foster care system and is now a board member with Bethany Christian Services’ North Carolina branch, I cannot stress enough the need to support these vulnerable children by placing them with loving, forever families in order to minimize the risk they face of being targeted by the sex trafficking industry. That’s why Bethany Christian Services has been providing invaluable services to vulnerable children and families through adoption, foster care, pregnancy counseling, and many other programs for 70 years.

According to Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, pimps are specifically targeting children in the foster care system – luring them in by offering care and attention before exploiting their innocence for financial gain. It is simply unacceptable for any child to ever feel that a pimp is the only adult in their life offering care and attention. More must be done to ensure that vulnerable children are moving out of the foster care system and into loving, forever families.

State and federal efforts are currently underway to streamline how police are alerted when children – including those who are in the often overloaded child welfare system – are reported missing. However, more needs to be done so that fewer and fewer children are being pulled into the heartbreaking web of exploitation and sex trafficking.

Whether it’s lobbying your state and federal representative to make sure that reporting standards are put in place, donating your resources to agencies dedicated to supporting vulnerable children, or even opening your heart and home to adoption, I encourage you to stand up for the children in our area and help ensure that no child gets pulled into a life of sexual exploitation because of the lack of a loving family.