But even when kids like Jean are removed from troubled homes, they are plunged into a broken system — one that at best confirms their mistrust of adults and at worst perpetuates the abuse.Jean first arrived at the house with the red door in 2011, on a chilly morning in late autumn.Eighty-six percent of runaway children in the United States suspected of being forced into sex work came from the child welfare system, according to a 2016 analysis of cases reported to the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children.Of the 79,000 child sex trafficking victims estimated to be in the state, the vast majority were in foster care or had previous contact with Child Protective Services, according to a recent University of Texas study.She had traveled there on a Dallas city bus, holding a piece of paper with a stranger's address on it.A small-framed girl, at 5'1" and roughly 90 pounds, Jean walked nervously down an unfamiliar street in a poor neighborhood near Pleasant Grove, in Southeast Dallas.
The agency has not publicly speculated on how much the reforms would cost, but one preliminary estimate by state budget analysts put it at "several hundred million dollars." Without early intervention in cases of abuse, children remain in conditions where they are likely to be vulnerable to traffickers.
When she was nine years old, her mother, struggling with drug addiction, had sent Jean from Missouri to rural Oklahoma to live with her father.
In fifth grade, Jean's father claimed he would begin home-schooling her. Periodically, in an attempt to dodge child welfare investigators, Jean's father packed up and moved, dragging her from Oklahoma to Arkansas to Texas.
Child welfare officials say they need more funding to continue that progress; lawmakers say that progress has come too slowly to warrant additional money.
"It's always about funding — we know that," said Hank Whitman, the child welfare chief, during a tense exchange at a recent Senate budget hearing.