Providing Trauma-Informed Care and Support for Pregnant and Parenting Foster Care Youth who are S

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Providing Trauma-Informed Care and Support for Pregnant and Parenting Foster Care Youth who are Survivors of Sex Trafficking

Changing Lives Two at a Time

As many as 90% of our residents are survivors of sexual abuse and an estimated 80% or more were sex trafficked.

Mary’s Path is a nationally accredited1 Short Term Residential Treatment Program facility for pregnant and parenting foster youth, ages 12-21. As many as 90% of our residents are survivors of sexual abuse and an estimated 80% or more were sex trafficked. Most survivors of sexual trafficking are left traumatized, alone, and without support to help them cope from years of physical, emotional, and psychological trauma. They struggle with depression, attention deficit, impulse control challenges, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, anger control issues, and difficulty managing moods and forming positive relationships.2 Too often their experience with the foster care system has left them with “relational inconsistency”3 that leads to a lack of stable support systems. These experiences, when combined with lack of positive role models to learn the life skills we take for granted, presents obstacles to creating stability and remaining successfully housed.

And, for residents of Mary’s Path, these young women are also learning to be mothers.

More than 1,100 teen moms and 700 babies have resided at Mary’s Path over the course of our 27-year history. Our support and care have helped these young mothers and babies prepare for lives free of abuse, neglect, and additional trauma. Mary’s Path is one of only three providers in California that specializes in serving pregnant and parenting foster youth.

What is Sex Trafficking?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing.”4 There is a myth that human trafficking occurs in foreign countries. Sadly, this is not true – sex trafficking occurs “in cities and towns in all 50 states. A shocking number of these victims are citizens of the United States.”5 Victims are overwhelmingly young, with 95% being previous victims of sexually assault6 and between 50% and 90% having had involvement with foster care or the child welfare system,7 indicating a family history of abuse.8 More than 50% experience one or more pregnancies and a majority are forced into having an abortion with no control over that decision.9

“Being in foster care was the perfect training for commercial sexual exploitation. I was used to being moved without warning, without any say, not knowing where I was going or whether I was allowed to pack my clothes. After years in foster care, I didn’t think anyone would want to take care of me unless they were paid. So, when my pimp expected me to make money to support ‘the family,’ it made sense to me.” email to California Child Welfare Council

In Orange County the story is similar. The 2021 Orange County Social Services Agency’s report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) found that children who experienced abuse, neglect, and especially sexual abuse and foster care involvement, were “at greater risk of being commercially sexually exploited. Since 2014, 100 percent of the children recovered by the OCHTTF [Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force] had a history of abuse or neglect in their background” while 88 percent had prior child abuse investigations. And, more than 67% of youth suspected of being sexually trafficked in Orange County were residents of Orange County.10

1Accredited by the Council on Accreditation.

2LA County Department of Mental Health, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Youth Fact Sheet, March 2017.

3Relational inconsistency occurs with multiple foster placements or experience in group homes.

4U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Human Trafficking Fact Sheet, 2004.

5Polaris, Sex Trafficking in the U.S.: A Closer Look at U.S. Citizen Victims, 2019.

6LA County of Department of Mental Health, Op. Cit.

7Occidental College, Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, At the Intersections: California’s Response to the Link Between the Child Welfare System and Sex Trafficking, April 8, 2019.

8UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, Shedding Light on Sex Trafficking, Research, Data, and Technologies with the Greatest Impact, May 2016.

9Lederer, Laura J. and Wetzel, Christopher A., The Health Consequences of Sex Trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities, 2014.

10County of Orange, Social Services Agency, CSEC Report 2021, 2021.

Mary’s Path provides a safe harbor to heal, become a nurturing parent, and discover academic and workplace potential. Services embody traumainformed guiding principles of safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment to ensure the physical and emotional safety of each resident. In addition to being a safe and nurturing place to live, Mary’s Path provides trauma-informed mental health treatment, case management, mentoring, trauma-focused equine therapy, parenting classes that support positive and engaged mothering, vocational education, independent living skills, financial literacy, opportunities for spiritual development, and coaching and mentoring on such subjects as healthy parenting skills, independent living, and emotional regulation and coping strategies. Mary’s Path also provides trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate early childhood education for the infants and toddlers in our care.

“Being a mother is such a great joy. She [my daughter] made my life worth living. I have to thank Mary’s Path for being such a helpful place for young moms.”

Former Resident

There is more we can do. Although Mary’s Path currently leads the way in providing services for foster youth who are pregnant or are already young moms, the level of trauma our residents have experienced requires a long-term solution for their full recovery. Without long-term investments in stable housing and comprehensive services that support their recovery from the abuse and trauma, our residents face a high likelihood of losing custody of their babies. More than 50% of foster care moms lose custody of their babies by the baby’s second birthday while their counterparts who are not in foster care lose custody in only 10% of the cases. This loss of custody is largely attributed to inadequate parenting skills, generational abuse and neglect, and related high rates of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and limited education.11 Consequently, children of young mothers with histories of abuse and neglect are 2.5 times more likely to enter the child welfare system,12 restarting the cycle of abuse, displacement, and neglect that leads to vulnerability to being sex trafficked. It is also well documented that 50% of all homeless youth have had experience in the foster care system, and furthermore, one of every four foster youth, once they age out of the system, become homeless. This data does not take into account the added instability caused by being a victim of sex trafficking.

11Barnert, Elizabeth S., Godoy, Sara M., Hammond, Ivy, Kelly, Mikaela A., Thompson, Lindsey R., Mondal, Sangetta, and Bath, Eraka P., Pregnancy Outcomes among Girls Impacted by Commercial Sexual Exploitation, 2019

12Putnam-Hornstein, E., Cederbaum, JA., King, B., Eastman, A.L., and Trickett, P.K., A population-level and longitudinal study of adolescent mothers and intergenerational maltreatment, American Journal of Epidemiology,; 2015

Your Invitation to support a long-term solution. Mary’s Path will embark on a planning process to explore how to best craft the next stage of supports for this vulnerable, yet hopeful, population of young mothers. We invite you to follow our pathway to building out an array of long-term solutions, including permanent, supportive housing and comprehensive supports that will further help our young moms successfully learn to create healthy, stable homes and break the generational cycle of abuse, neglect, loss of custody, and child welfare involvement that has led to their vulnerability and victimization. As we launch our strategic planning process, and explore the possibility of a capital campaign to establish long-term stable housing for our teen moms, we will keep you informed about your role in impacting our mission, our programs, and most importantly, the lives of these young mothers and their babies.

Thank you for your interest in the teen moms and babies we serve, and for allowing us to introduce you to Mary’s Path and how change lives, two at a time. We hope you agree that our young mothers and the future of their families are an investment worth making, and we hope you are as excited as we are about what our future holds.

Our Executive Director, Jill Dominguez, welcomes the opportunity to learn more about your interests and to discover how we may match your interest with our impact. Jill will reach out soon. In the meantime, should you wish to connect with Jill, she can be reached through her office at 714-730-0930 ext. 119, by cell at (714) 496-7363, or via email at

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