‘A child is so vulnerable:’ St. Pete lawmakers back bill to create task force to protect vulnerable children

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Local and state leaders are working to prevent at-risk children in state custody from going missing, running away, or becoming victims of human trafficking.

As summer arrives and children have more free time, executives worry that predators could take advantage of children and put them in dangerous situations.

A newly filed warrant details the story of a teen who ran away from his Hillsborough County apartment building on and off for several years. Investigators assume that the child is a victim of human trafficking. Cases like this are why Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg is taking action.

Right under our noses, missing in broad daylight,” Rouson said. “A child is so vulnerable that we need to take care of the young as much as we do the old.”

For this reason Rouson sponsored a bill set up a special task force to find out why children in foster care disappear, run away or are trafficked and how to stop it.

“All of these little kids in Florida need protection and they all need people to care for them,” said Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General.

Heads of state are working to close the gap.

“A missing child could become a victim of human trafficking, sexual exploitation or crime, and we must put a stop to that,” Rouson said.

Data from Department for Children and Families shows that an average of 195 children have disappeared from state care. From March the trend is upwards.

“I think the risk is greater when the school is closed and the children go to youth centers and other daycares. We need to get this under control now,” said Rouson.

The bill has passed the House and Senate and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. Once that happens, the task force will begin work.

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