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Helping America’s Most Vulnerable

Protecting children from harm and providing vulnerable youth a pathway to success are vital national priorities. And today, the House of Representatives is expected to take two important steps that will advance these priorities for children and families.

Step one: Strengthen protections for children who are victims of deplorable crimes.

In 1984, Congress passed and President Reagan signed into law the Missing Children’s Assistance Act. The law established a grant to support efforts to find missing children and prevent child exploitation. For more than 30 years, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has used this grant to coordinate and support state and local efforts to recover children who are missing and protect youth who are the victims of sexual exploitation.

According to NCMEC, there were more than 465,000 reports of missing children in 2016. NCMEC assisted with approximately 21,000 of these cases and estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways were likely victims of child sex trafficking. These horrific numbers are a grim reminder of what is at stake — and how crucial the law is to protecting and recovering vulnerable children. As Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said during a hearing to examine NCMEC’s work:

No child should live in fear of being taken from his or her family. No child should live in fear of abuse or exploitation. No child should live in fear of becoming the victim of a heinous crime. No child should live in fear. Period.

 To strengthen a national effort to recover missing children and support youth victims of violent crimes, Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) introduced the Improving Support for Missing and Exploited Children Act (H.R. 1808). This bipartisan legislation will help:

  • Encourage and increase public awareness of new and innovative ways to recover and protect missing and exploited children;
  • Better protect the growing number of children who go missing from state care and those who are victims of sex trafficking;
  • Improve assistance in identifying and locating abductors, criminal offenders, and missing children;
  • Prevent children from becoming the victims of exploitation online; and
  • Provide transparency surrounding recovery and prevention efforts.
Step two: Enhance support for state and local leaders serving youth in the juvenile justice system.

More than 1 million children are currently involved in the juvenile justice system. The statistics show a troubling pattern: Youth who have been incarcerated are 26 percent less likely to graduate from high school and 26 percent more likely to engage in other unlawful activity and return to jail as adults. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act provides federal resources to support state and local leaders who are on the front lines of serving these vulnerable youth. The law helps provide a critical lifeline, yet it hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.

To modernize current law, Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), along with Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), introduced the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 1809). This bipartisan bill will:
  • Provide state and local leaders greater flexibility to meet the needs of delinquent youth in their communities and improve public safety;
  • Help at-risk youth avoid the juvenile justice system by improving support for prevention services;
  • Prioritize what works and focusing on evidence-based strategies with proven track records; and
  • Improve accountability and oversight to deliver positive outcomes for kids and protect taxpayers.

Two bills and two important steps. As Chairwoman Foxx noted last month:

These bipartisan bills are different in policy but share a similar purpose. One streamlines a law that provides support for missing and exploited children. The other makes reforms to assist at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. But both renew a commitment we have made to help and protect our most vulnerable children.