Why Do We Help?

Teens in the Foster System

Mary’s Path offers a wide array of programs and services to minor girls who are pregnant, homeless and lack family support. Over 90 percent of our girls come from the foster care system. And more shockingly, over 80 percent of those girls are victims of sex trafficking.

Teen pregnancy can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but it can be especially hard for young women in the foster care system.  Another explanation may be that girls in foster care are less likely than their peers to delay childbearing because having a child is a way for her to create the family she did not have, fill an emotional void or to escape from sex trafficking.

The crisis of sex trafficking and exploitation in the U.S. is finally capturing Americas attention. But a critical part of the story has not been told. Most of the children who are being bought and sold for sex in our nation are foster care children. In 2015, the FBI reported that more than 70 percent of the child sex trafficking victims were children from foster care.

Perhaps the most poignant story of how children involved in our foster care system are so vulnerable to traffickers is from a Congressional testimony by Withelma “T” Pettigrew. Her words bear witness to her experience and expertise on how the foster care system is the training ground in this country for being bought and sold for sex

Ms. “T’s” words:

I spent for the most part, the first 18 years of my life in the foster care system. Seven of those years I was a child being sexually trafficked on the streets, Internet, strip clubs, massage parlors and even in the back of express papers. Many children, like myself, come from various traumas previously to entering into foster care, and many times, are further exposed to trauma throughout their experience in the foster care system…Youth within the system are more vulnerable to becoming sexually exploited because youth accept and normalize the experience of being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us, we experience various people who control our lives, and we lack the opportunity to gain meaningful relationships and attachments.

In addition, traffickers/pimps/exploiters have no fear of punishment http://maryspath.org/wp-admin/post-new.php#savebecause they rely on the lack of attention that occurs when these young people go missing…Many children, myself included, who grow up in foster care express how it is common household knowledge that many caregivers take them in primarily for the paycheck in which they are provided for the purpose of caring for the child…These caregivers will make statements like “you’re not my child, I don’t care what’s going on with you, as long as you’re not dead, I’ll continue to get my paycheck.” This “nothing but a paycheck” theory objectifies the youth and the youth begin to normalize the perception that their presence is to be used for financial gain. This creates a mind frame for the youth that their purpose is to bring income into a household…Therefore, when youth are approached by traffickers/pimps/exploiters, they don’t see much difference between their purpose of bringing finances into their foster home and bringing money to traffickers/pimps/exploiters’ ‘stable…’

Like me, any youth in foster care, becomes accustomed to adapting to multiple moves from home to home which allows us to easily then adapt to when traffickers/pimps/exploiters move us multiple times, from hotel to hotel, city to city, and/or state to state. For myself, as unfortunate as it is to say, the most consistent relationship I ever had in care was with my pimp and his family.

This story is very similar to most of the girls who live with us at Mary’s Path. We can no longer ignore the facts and the dangerous intersection between children in foster care and child sex trafficking.

Once a resident arrives at our home, we immediately identify, assess, and provide the appropriate interventions needed to start her healing. We focus on instilling self-respect, gaining dignity and restoring hope. At Mary’s Path we offer pregnant teens a home to live in while we help them end the cycle of abuse and poverty, help her focus on education, and guide her to a life of dignity, hope and self-sufficiency.