News 13 Special Report: Human trafficking victims in foster care

News13 Investigates

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – Horry County tops the state with the number of reported human trafficking cases. Some of those victims are minors and have to be taken from their homes.

Aundrea Rue has been a foster parent for 13 years. She’s opened her heart and home to 13 foster children and adopted three of them.

“There are kids that don’t deserve to be in the situation that they’re in, and they’re just looking for a family to give them a chance at a better life and to really give them the opportunity to grow into who they were created to be,” said Rue.

The Department of Social Services is in need of foster parents, but are in dire need of foster homes that are specialized to take in children who are victims of sex trafficking.

According to State’s Attorney General’s Office, there is only one home statewide where the foster parents are trained to work with trafficking victims. That foster family is in Horry County.

“A lot of these children are going to run away right off the bat if they put them in a foster home that’s not trained to respond to the needs of the victims. We’ve had cases where that’s happened,” said Kathryn Moorehead, the director of human trafficking with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office.

Moorehead said DSS is looking for foster parents who are willing to become a specialized therapeutic placement. Previously, DSS didn’t’ have the authority to get involved in every trafficking case. It wasn’t until legislation passed in April 2018, that DSS is able to get involved regardless of who the perpetrator is.

“They’ve had children under the age of six who’ve been trafficked. Typically though a trafficker will target a child between the ages of 12 and up to 16 or 17 years old. You see situations in which family are using their children in exchange for rent, in exchange for opioids in exchange for whatever the case may be, whatever they may need,” said Moorehead.

According to the 2019 human trafficking task force annual report, 83 minors were reported victims of sex trafficking. In 2019, 51 victims were in foster care. That same year, six victims were at the Department of Juvenile Justice. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2020.

The DSS Director of Child Health and Well-being said they are in specialized facilities or group homes, but they only have so much room. News 13 asked why it’s difficult to find specialized foster families.

“We’ve actually heard of situations where there are bounties put on these young women’s heads, and that their traffickers will universally stop at nothing to get them back. It takes a foster parent that has a real heart for that population, and has the ability to oftentimes stay at home and be with a child 24-7,” said Gwynne Goodlett, DSS Director of Child Health and Well-being.

DSS said sometimes a victim can’t immediately be put into a family-like setting due to drug addiction or special behavioral needs, and has to be in a more restrictive environment before being put into a foster home.

Right now, DSS is waiting for another provider to open their doors, and the Attorney Generals Office is working to establish acute care centers which is a residential component where the victim can meet with law enforcement, DSS, and an assessment can be done.

Meanwhile, Rue believes foster families will open their doors.

If that training were to be made available and more widespread, I’m sure there are a lot of good-hearted people that would step up and try to help children that had been rescued literally out of slavery.,” said Rue.

This week DSS has applied for a grant for more money for housing options for young women and men that are trafficking victims.

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a foster parent click here: https://dss.sc.gov/foster-care/

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