Let’s talk about the issue of human trafficking. The good news on this front is that there is increased public awareness of the problem. In fact, there are no fewer than four bills before Congress this session, and many more receiving consideration on the state level. The bad news is that the problem continues to grow.
But, as the increase in proposed legislation demonstrates, there is a growing understanding that, in order to combat human trafficking, we need to collaborate across agency and community lines. With this in mind, I want to direct your attention to a new publication from the Department of Education, entitled “Human Trafficking in America’s Schools.”
The report begins with what, for many of you, is a familiar recitation of the magnitude of the issue of human trafficking. But the focus is really on how “[s]chools can and should be safe havens for students, and even more so for some students whose lives are otherwise characterized by instability and lack of safety and security.” Id., p. 1. To facilitate this, the authors have put together a thorough, but easily comprehended, compendium of the crime, the risk factors and indicators, and a step-by-step guide for establishing policies and procedures around responding to and reporting suspicions of child trafficking.
Of particular interest to us as CACs and MDTs is the report’s emphasis on community collaboration. The authors state clearly that “©hild trafficking is not solely a school issue; it is a community issue that impacts schools. Therefore, it is recommended that all members of the community play a role in protecting students.” Id., p. 8. To do so, we must equip “leaders with the resources to have an authentic dialog about the issue – including demand – in their neighborhoods, jurisdictions, constituencies, or school districts and [give] these leaders the tools to work toward solutions.” Id.
As a first step, the authors recommend “that each community develop cross-system mechanisms and infrastructure for collaboration among public agencies and stakeholders, while building upon the structures, processes, and relationships already in place.” Id. And although the report does not identify CACs specifically, it does list law enforcement and social service providers, and it is clearly a natural fit for our agencies and teams. Indeed, the authors note that “[b]y getting other partners involved, schools will create safer campuses and increase the chances for academic, social and psychological student success.” Id.
The report lays out the responsibilities of schools in three steps:
1. Increase staff awareness and educate staff on the indicators and the nature of the crimes;
2. Increase parent and student awareness of the risks and realities of trafficking; and
3. Develop and clearly articulate district- or school-wide policies on and protocols for identifying a suspected victim or responding to a disclosure from a suspected victim.
Id., p. 9. Moreover, the report notes that “the school district should develop a procedure similar to the procedures used in cases of sexual assault or for reporting child abuse. Because trafficking of children is child abuse, the protocol may be an addendum to the existing child abuse reporting protocol.” Id.
And the authors go one step further – they provide a sample protocol for school districts that is divided into three separate scenarios:
• Suspected recruitment or actual exploitation by student
• Suspected victim of commercial sexual exploitation of children
• Confirmed victim of commercial sexual exploitation of children
Id., p. 10. Not surprisingly, there is an important role to be played by CACs and MDTs in each and every one of these scenarios, and in developing protocols that meet the needs of child victims and are responsive to individual communities.
I urge you to download this free report, and share it widely with the school districts, team members and communities you serve. Working together, we can find effective solutions for students, parents, schools and communities.