The Child Welfare Response to Labor Trafficking in California

For the past decade, California has led the nation in human trafficking cases. Since 2015, 20% to 30% of human trafficking cases in California annually reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline involved the trafficking of youth or children under the age of 18. In response, state and local jurisdictions have dedicated resources to stop child trafficking, including the development of systems for identification, prevention, and victim services.

Like the nation overall, California’s efforts have focused particularly on sex trafficking, or the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).

Labor trafficking, or the commercial exploitation of children or youth for their labor or services, has received comparatively little attention. Yet, from 2016-2018, 13% to 17% reported child trafficking cases in California, involved labor trafficking or both sex and labor trafficking.

Additionally, due to lack of awareness and limited data collection, the prevalence of child labor trafficking is likely much higher than documented.

Child welfare efforts for early identification and response to child labor trafficking remain relevant for several key reasons:

  • Child labor trafficking frequently intersects with commercial sexual exploitation;
  • Children with experience in foster care or the juvenile justice system are at a particularly high risk for labor trafficking;
  • Child labor trafficking may involve the failure or inability of the parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child [WIC 300(b) (1)]. This includes, but is not limited to, children who were labor trafficked by a parent or guardian; and
  • Concerns around child labor or child labor exploitation do not need to rise to the level of child labor trafficking to be harmful to children.

This brief and accompanying tool-kit highlight a case study of ten child welfare agencies participating in the Preventing and Addressing Child Trafficking Project and their efforts to implement a comprehensive approach to child trafficking.

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