January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month in Texas, a reflection of the deep commitment held by our state’s leaders to ending child sex trafficking. The designation, first made by the Legislature in 2015 and championed by Governor. Greg Abbott, provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the problem and solutions to address it. Several of TNOYS’ member organizations are among those taking the lead on innovative efforts to fight trafficking of young people and support the survivors. They include:
Roy Maas Youth Alternatives’ Centro Seguro
In October 2017, Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA) opened Centro Seguro, the first 24-hour drop-in/drop-out center in the United States with a focus on serving young people who have been victims of trafficking. Centro Seguro, which is located in downtown San Antonio, is a joint effort with Bexar County Juvenile Probation and serves young people ages 11–17. Centro Seguro’s mission is to connect with youth who have been or may be identified as sex trafficked in ways that create safety and assist in finding a safe place off the streets they can call home.
The center was made possible through grant funding from the Texas Governor’s Office. Julie Ann Strentzsch, RMYA’s Chief Program Officer, credits increased attention from the Governor as helping to facilitate innovative and effective solutions for trafficking victims. “Putting the spotlight on this group of kids — a segment of the population that’s getting lost — gives us more structure in how to serve them,” she said.
Click here to read news coverage of Centro Seguro.
BCFS Health and Human Services’ Common Thread Program
In September 2017, BCFS Health and Human Services launched its Common Thread program, aimed at supporting victims and potential victims of youth sex trafficking along the I-35 corridor, which has some of the heaviest trafficking activity in the United States. The program’s main feature is a 24-hour hotline that anyone can call for support with a trafficking incident, from law enforcement to victims themselves.
The program helps survivors by offering immediate in-field response when victims are identified, intensive case management, and long-term mentorship. Since its launch, the program has expanded to Houston as well, and staff are prepared to travel anywhere in the state to assist those in need.
Lisa Lloyd of BCFS says the main features that make the hotline effective are the quick response time, the fact that staff will meet callers in person anywhere to provide services, and that they strive to provide ongoing, relationship-based support as much as possible. “Our approach is to be a friend, a ‘common thread,’” she said. “Once their immediate needs are taken care of, we try to get them into longer-term care.”
Click here to learn more about Common Thread.
The SAFE Alliance’s SAFE CARES Program
In late 2017, Austin-based SAFE Alliance launched its SAFE CARES program, to meet the needs of young people being trafficked in Central Texas. SAFE CARES, which stands for Collaboration, Advocacy, Response, and Engagement for Survivors, offers a continuum of services including a drop-in center, advocacy and a specialized foster program. The program is designed to provide a comprehensive response for survivors of exploitation by creating opportunities to be, and feel, safe and connected.
Click hereto read a blog post about SAFE CARES that appeared on TNOYS’ blog earlier this year.
Harris County Protective Services’ TRIAD Child Sex Trafficking Program
In June 2018, the TRIAD Child Sex Trafficking (CST) Program began offering a 24/7 hotline to help survivors of child sexual exploitation in the Harris County region and divert them from the criminal justice system. The hotline is operated at the Youth Services Center and is answered by Harris County Protective Services (HCPS) and Juvenile Probation staff.
Matt Broussard of HCPS explains that, “The hotline serves as a single point of contact for first responders and regional partners who respond to crises with this population, and the program fosters collaboration among law enforcement, child welfare, juvenile justice, and various service providers.” Within 24-72 hours of a call, TRIAD CST begins facilitating multi-disciplinary team meetings among partners that continue until survivors reach age 19.
Since June, TRIAD CST has served 113 youth clients and their families. The funding for the project is provided through the Victims of Crime Act and supervised by the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor. HCPS is administering Care Coordination services among various partners in the Houston-Harris County region.
Click here to learn more about TRIAD.
There are an estimated 79,000 youth being trafficked for sex in Texas, and 20 percent of the human trafficking victims identified in the U.S. have been in Texas. That’s why it’s so important for youth services organizations here in Texas to develop strategies for helping these vulnerable young people, and for our state’s governor to support that work. TNOYS is proud of the work BCFS, RMYA, SAFE, HCPS, and our other member organizations are doing to help trafficking survivors.