There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80 percent are female and half are children. Even more alarming is the number of children in foster care who have made their way into the sex trade.
The Restore Conference held November 18 at Journey Church in Boynton Beach worked to combat that, shedding light not only on the global effects of human trafficking, but highlighting the issue in our own communities. The conference brought together people of all walks of life to not only educate them, but to empower them to want to take action. What began as a nighttime only event grew into a full day conference in its third year, offering participants more opportunities to pray and engage in conversations about human trafficking and ways to combat it.
“Foster care children are targeted by traffickers because of their need for love, affirmation and protection,” said Tanya Meade, Rescue Upstream director. “We can significantly reduce the volume of foster children falling into the hands of traffickers by giving them what they need and long for: healthy families who will parent and love them unconditionally. Who better to do that than the body of Christ?”
In the United States, the crisis of children in foster care who are trafficked has become an epidemic. In 2013, 60 percent of the child sex trafficking victims recovered as part of a FBI nationwide raid from over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes. While there has been a widespread cry to fight back against the evils of human trafficking on a global scale, there has been less attention given to domestic sex trafficking, especially among the foster care population.
A spiritual battle
“The event began out of the firm belief that, ultimately, the battle against human trafficking is a spiritual one. This year’s event had a specific tie regarding kids in foster care and the high percentage that get involved in human trafficking,” said Meade.
Prayer stations were lined up corner to corner, offering specific times and scriptures to pray. The stations lent themselves to the real life journey of victims, while at the same time using that sadness to bring petitions to God to end these grave injustices against humankind.
This year’s conference also included the showing of the documentary “Foster Shock” by Mari Frankel, a disturbing look inside Florida’s broken foster care system. The documentary was birthed out of Frankel’s experience as a Guardian Ad Litem. “It was horrifying what I witnessed,” said Frankel. “This is what prompted me to do this, to make this film. I learned quickly that foster children are not heard, are not safe, are not seen.”
The film highlighted the broad based problem of a privatized broken system, but sent a message of hope. “It is people and not institutions that make the difference,” Frankel said during the panel discussion after the film. “Each one of us can help out. We have a specific set of skills; we work one child by one child and get as many eyes as possible on that child.” Frankel was especially passionate about the various roles that people can play within the system such as foster parent, guardian ad litem and mentor. “The more eyes that are on the child, the less likely they will get involved in human trafficking.”
The panel discussion following the film echoed Frankel’s sentiments. “We are lacking mentors,” said Shirlon McCarty, reform specialist with the Department of Juvenile Justice. “Maybe you can’t open your home for a child but you can always be a mentor; we lack valuable mentors.”
To increase the amount of mentors in the community, the Department of Juvenile Justice in Palm Beach County has started a faith community committee, working to build relationships with local houses of worship.
“There is such a strong correlation of youth in the dependency system that pick up a delinquent offense. We have to combat that,” McCarty said.
The consensus of the panel was that finding homes that will take in teenagers or sibling groups is crucial. Also, the key to a foster child’s success lies in forming bonds with people who care and that really understand the child. This in turn will lessen the likelihood that foster children will get involved in human trafficking.
“Having a foster parent helps, not shift staff,” said Frankel, “These kid need a place to belong and be known.”
One of the panelists, Crystal Harrison, part of the Partner Engagement Team with 4Kids of South Florida and a former foster child herself, added that kids in foster care are twice as likely to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She shared her heart and her experience in foster care, but also shared much more.
“A big part of my experience was finding faith in Christ, a hope that no person could have given me,” said Harrison. Her passionate plea to the audience reminded everyone of Christ’s sustainable hope and peace, which transcends all understanding.
This panel discussion proved a catalyst for change, with the aim to look inside of ourselves to live out the gospel in our daily lives, asking ourselves, What can we do to make a positive impact on the life of a child?
The focus on relationships reinforced the idea that one person can make a difference, even to the point of saving a child’s life. “As Benjamin Nolot of Exodus Cry quotes, ‘The battle for human trafficking will never be won in the courts of man until it is first won in the courts of heaven,’” said Meade.
For more information on the Restore conference, you can visit their website at www.rescueupstream.com. To find out more about “Foster Shock,” visit www.fostershock.com.
Melissa ZelnikerPresser is a Jewish believer in Jesus who is chasing her God-sized dream of becoming a full-time writer. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.