A San Diego-based educator has joined the fight against child trafficking and a practice called “re-homing,” which involves the online advertising of adopted children without the oversight of child welfare agencies.
On Tuesday, Grossmont Unified High School District (GUHSD) assistant principal Jenee’ Littrell attended a subcommittee hearing on child trafficking and re-homing held by U.S. Senator Kay Hagan in Washington, D.C.
The hearing – titled “Falling Through the Cracks: The Challenges of Prevention and Identification in Child Trafficking and Private Re-homing” – examined how child victims of trafficking and re-homing may go unidentified, misidentified or unreported due to gaps in training and education of health care providers, school personnel and social workers.
It was the first-ever hearing held in the Senate on the issue of re-homing of adopted children. The practice first came to light last September after Reuters published the findings of a five-year investigation into the online advertising of adopted children.
Reuters investigative reporter Megan Twohey’s article and investigation uncovered this practice happening in a Yahoo chat forum, where parents were offloading adopted children they no longer wanted via online ads, often with no questions asked.
“Desperate parents use online bulletin boards to offer adoptees to strangers, often illegally and with no government oversight,” she reported.
Twohey reported how this happened to one adopted teenage girl from Haiti who was passed among four families over the course of two years through private re-homing. In her research, she found 5,000 Yahoo messages related to re-homing posted in on chat forum.
Locally, Littrell said the GUHSD is aware of this re-homing practice and devoted to preventing it from happening to students in San Diego.
Littrell said she’s made it her mission to fight child trafficking and helped create a program within her school district to help identify vulnerable students.
The program, she said, increases staff awareness at schools, educates students on dangers and creates a protocol when they identify a victim.
Littrell said part of why the program works is because of open communication between school personnel and law enforcement, probation and child welfare officials.
“Because we care so much about our students, we want to be on the forefront of keeping any of those issues from coming into our schools. However, if they do impact our students we want to have the partnerships there to protect those students and get those students served,” said Littrell.
In the end, she believes prevention is the key to curbing child trafficking.
“It’s time to really get to the parents and families and help young people understand what it looks like when someone is trying to get you to do something that you’re not comfortable with, whether it’s trafficking or doing something else,” Littrell explained. “We can do a lot to reinforce and educate our young people, which I think ultimately will make a huge impact on this issue.”
The subcommittee found that 300,000 children are being trafficked in the U.S. Those children are typically between 11 and 14 years old, with girls being especially vulnerable targets.
Many of these children are still attending school, so the challenge right now is to raise awareness and education among health care providers, social workers and educators so these children don’t go unidentified.
Twohey called Tuesday’s hearing the first step to determining whether the federal government can step in to help protect children from re-homing and trafficking.
“There’s been a lot of outrage and concern at the state, local and international levels,” she said.
Her investigation brought the issue of re-homing into the spotlight. Though Twohey said re-homing doesn’t seem to violate any federal laws, Congress is looking into it.