The hearing entitled, Protecting Missing and Exploited Children, was convened by the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education and led by Chairman Bean (R-FL) advocated for the bipartisan Missing Children’s Reauthorization Act of 2023. The hearing addressed the significant increase in child exploitation and the critical role of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as a part of the solution.

Michelle Delaune, President and CEO of NCMEC, was the only witness at the hearing. Delaune indicated that exploitation of children is on the rise, especially online. For example, Delaune stated that ninety percent of missing children are from the foster care system, which in 2023 was 22,000 children. Also, nineteen percent of these missing children were suspected of experiencing sexual exploitation. Further, she indicated that advances in technology such as AI has created more avenues to exploit children and the current laws are insufficient to regulate the new threats. Additionally, Delaune delineated the ways NCMEC works towards the prevention, location and restoration of children who have been harmed; are: Take it Down which removes the pornographic images of children from the internet, Amber Alert, role as a clearinghouse, collaboration, prevention education, customized case management, and medical resources.

Further, some members of the Sub-Committee highlighted the populations most impacted by child exploitation, as well as those assisted by NCMEC and those excluded from the services of NCMEC. Representative Bonamici (D-OR) reported that children of color are overrepresented in missing children’s cases. For example, though Black people comprise 14 percent of the population, from 2016 to 2020, thirty percent of the children reported to be missing were Black. Similarly, LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience homelessness because of experiences of rejection and abuse from families. Further, Representative Bonamici provided the example of the Imani Center in St Helens, Oregon, a rural child advocacy center that provides forensic child abuse assessment and support for children and families that without the help of NCMEC could not serve the population. Finally, Congressman Sablan (D-Mariana Islands) noted that while the NCMEC does excellent work none of the Pacific Islands have access to the Clearinghouse. However, they are gravely in need of it because of high rates of child trafficking in those areas.

By Aretha Shalanda Campbell, Policy Intern