A Huge Win Against Human Trafficking

Hello Friends and Readers of Foster Focus Magazine,

There has not been and there could not be enough excitement about the passage of HR 4980, the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening 
Families Act”, which was recently signed into law by the President on September 29th, 2014.  It’s a big deal and if it’s implemented well it could change 
everything about how the foster care system operates for youth and families.  The bill represents a monumental shift in the way that child welfare is 
allowed to operate and it’s a shift that I hope continues on in the future.  The pendulum of child welfare policy has historically swung back and forth 
from Safety to Well Being, Safety to Well Being, changing its focus from one to the other every few years. Now more and more of us are realizing just 
how interconnected Safety and Well Being truly are, which is where HR 4980 comes in.  By recognizing that we have the power to prevent sex 
trafficking by, for example, giving young people access to normalized ways of making money (jobs, IDs, bank accounts), we are finally recognizing that 
while Safety is the first priority of child welfare it cannot and does not exist in a vacuum; that is, without considering things like Permanency and, more 
recently, Well Being.    

Before you carry on with the reading of this article though, I imagine that you’d like to know a little bit more about me.  My name is Timothy Bell and I 
am a son of the State of Washington.  I “aged out” of foster care at 18 in 2005 and have been working as a community organizer and advocate in 
foster care ever since, currently serving as the president of the Washington Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America.  In partnership with several 
organizations, I’ve successfully thrown 3 annual Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day events wherein young people from around the country are 
sent to Washington DC for several days of training before job shadowing their respective member(s) of Congress and meeting members of the 
Federal Administration in the White House.  I’ve been a member to and organizer of various youth boards, a mentor to many young people, an 
Independent Living Program case manager, an Educational Advocate for youth in foster care, an international foster care community organizer, and, 
until very recently I was the Director of Policy and Systems Change at FosterClub where I worked directly with young people and community 
advocates on a state and federal level to impact foster care policy.  I’ve learned so much about child welfare in my time as an advocate but there is 
still so much more to learn.

I honestly don’t know whether HR 4980 will end up helping even a single young person because so much rides in the implementation of the law by the 
federal administration and individual states. But I’m more than a little hopeful and entirely eager to get started on making sure that this law gets done 
well.  This is why, in September when I found myself in Japan on a trip to help improve the Japanese foster care system, I was agonizing every day I 
was gone over the passage of HR 4980 in the Senate.  Oddly, the bill had passed out of the House of Representatives some time before the Senate 
took it up, which is a place where many bills end up getting stuck for years.  When the Senate finally did consider a vote Senator Tom Coburn 
(Republican Senator from Oklahoma) held up the process for seemingly no reason (presumably because it would theoretically add money to the 
federal deficit the first year even as it is reduces it over the next ten).  Before the matter could be resolved, the Senate went on a long break. This was 
a disaster because Congress has a poor reputation for getting things done in the immediate period before elections and November’s 
elections/October’s campaigning was right around the corner.  If the bill hadn’t have passed through the Senate in September, it probably wouldn’t 
have passed through at all.  But it did pass!  And here we are today, one step further and farther on the road to a better foster care system- so let’s 
get down to business.  

There are a number of summaries out there that exist so I don’t feel a powerful need to reinvent the wheel.  Below is a summary created by 
FosterClub’s Alexander McFarland:

“Some important parts of the bill:

• Youth Rights: States are required to provide any youth 14 or older a list of their rights as well as a signed acknowledgement that the youth received 
the list

• Prudent Parenting: New requirements for “prudent parenting” standards (this means states will make plans to allow foster parents and group homes, 
instead of just caseworkers or agencies, to decide whether a youth can participate in age appropriate activities like sports or other extra curricular 
activities)

• Normalcy: For older youth, the ability to participate in “normal”, age appropriate activities must be discussed at the youth’s case planning meetings; 
Congress has also given money to pay for these activities starting in 2020

• Case Planning: Starting at age 14, youth will be given the opportunity to become involved in the development of their case plan and transition plan; 
youth will also have the option to invite two people of the youth’s choice to attend planning meetings

• Preventing Long Term Foster Care: Discourages the use of Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) from being a Permanency 
option for youth; requires states to provide more evidence to the court that aging out is the best option for older youth in care

• Documents when exiting care: Youth must be provided a copy of birth certificate, social security card, drivers license or state ID, health insurance 
and medical records

• Tracking Disrupted Adoptions: Requires states to track disrupted and dissolved adoptions and guardianships

• Sex Trafficking Prevention: Requires states to track the sexual exploitation of foster youth and youth who runaway and/or are missing from care; 
increases training requirements for those who work with youth to identify sex trafficking as it occurs

• Adoptions: Makes adoptions and guardianships easier for families by revising incentives for those families"

I’m proud to say that I worked on much of this over the course of several years- educating members of Congress on many of the components outlined 
above and bringing young people from care to Washington DC to share their experiences with members of Congress and the Federal Administration 
about the need to address each and every point in the bill.  To be clear, I’m not saying that this law was somehow my doing; HR 4980 only came into 
law after a lot of really great advocates spent YEARS hammering on the same points both strategically and relentlessly until many of those points 
coalesced into a bill before being voted and signed into law.