Incredible, but True and Very Sad
The expression on the Board of Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s face that appeared in a photograph associated with an article on sexually exploited youth in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, December 3 says it all. According to the article, “more than half the juveniles arrested in LA County on prostitution-related charges have been under the care and supervision of DCFS.” Incredible, but true and very sad! To add insult to injury, these youth until the recent passage of the Proposition 35 have been treated as criminals rather than as victims of crimes by law enforcement.
How is it possible that children and youth in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services are lost to the streets and disappear into the nether world of homelessness, prostitution, and addiction? There just has to be a better way to serve such vulnerable youth and to avoid the tragedy of their sexual exploitation.
As mentioned previously on this blog, a young female resident of Youth Moving On, Hillsides’ housing and services program for former foster youth, mentioned to me that she aspires to serve youth trapped by gangs in the world of sexual trafficking. She struggled to gain her freedom from that environment and now serves as an advocate for these youth, helping them to transition away from gang involved prostitution to becoming independent. As with many of these youth, the first step is often a safe place to live.
Although we don’t offer a safe house program, we do reach out to these youth and counsel and support them as they struggle to free themselves from the grip of gang related activities. As always, we are quick to offer them a safe place to live once they can make that break and are resolved to take advantage of the services available through YMO.
Proposition 35 goes a long way in changing the law enforcement culture and will require greater attention to these exploited youth so they receive the care they need instead of just being led off into the criminal justice system. But this does not address the failures of the child welfare system that somehow “lost” these children and youth to the streets in the first place.
Part of the solution does not just rest with the foster care system, but rather with the families of these children. One of the principal drivers in gang involvement is the need to belong and be protected. For most of us, the need to belong is provided in our family unit. Although it may seem counter intuitive, I think that all we do to find someone within the family of these very vulnerable youth to serve as an adult “anchor” for them accomplishes much in eliminating the need for them to look elsewhere for the affection and care they deserve.
Certainly special training, increased supervision, better monitoring, and engaging programs would also serve to address the problem. But at the end of the day, it is that one adult, who always will be faithful, consistent, and dedicated that makes the differencein helping a vulnerable child satisfy the basic need to be loved.