In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, TNOYS is profiling member agencies and organizations working to tackle this important issue. One such agency, TRIAD, is a branch of Harris County Protective Services (HCPS). TRIAD acts as the Care Coordinator for Harris County’s multi-disciplinary team (MDT).
Care coordination is an effort spearheaded by the Texas Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team to ensure that the response to youth trafficking victims is child-centered, trauma-informed, and coordinated for maximum effect and support for the child. Care Coordinators convene and facilitate multi-disciplinary teams that plan and deliver services for child sex-trafficking survivors, with a focus on the specific needs of each child in crisis. This often means bringing together service providers, law enforcement, and the child welfare system in a coordinated effort.
TRIAD Care Coordination By the Numbers
In 2019, The TRIAD Team served 170 victims of child sex trafficking. Below, we have summarized data from TRIAD to provide an overview of the populations they serve:
- Gender: 96% of minors identified as female.
- Age: The most common age among those served in 2019 was 16. 25% of minors served were 16 at the time of referral. 25% were 17, and 16% of minors were 15.
- Legal Status at Referral: Of the 54 youth referrals by law enforcement, 65% were community referrals. 35% were youth in the conservatorship of DFPS. Of the 108 youth identified by community partners using the Child Sexual Exploitation Identification Tool (CSE-IT), the majority (56%) were community referrals, while 35% were Juvenile Justice involved.
A Cross-System, Collaborative Approach
Harris County was one of the first communities to develop the multi-disciplinary Coordinated Care Team (CCT) and policies to be able to meet the needs of victims of child sex trafficking. Thanks to its cross-system process, the multi-disciplinary team and TRIAD are able to respond to trafficking victims very quickly and effectively.
The process begins when first responders call the TRIAD Child Sex Trafficking 24/7 hotline, after recovering a child in crisis. The first priority is to make sure the child is out of danger and that basic needs of food, shelter, and medical needs are met. In the event that shelter is needed, the child can be taken to the Kinder Shelter, a 24-hour emergency shelter operated by HCPS.
Next, CCT’s response is almost immediate: stakeholders such as representatives from the Children’s Assessment Center, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Law Enforcement, and medical specialists get on a call within 24 hours of recovery to discuss the priority services that the child needs up front.
An important part of the Care Coordination Team’s immediate response is their work with specialized stakeholders called “CSEY advocates.” These advocates, available through agencies such as the YMCA and BCFS, are immediately notified when a youth referral comes in. As HCPS’ Deputy Director of Youth Services Division Matthew Broussard explained, “Sometimes kids lose relationships with professionals as they move in and out of systems. The advocate is meant to be there for the child continuously: their job is to develop a non-judgemental relationship with that kid and advocate for their needs, and speak for kids when they can’t speak for themselves.”
TRIAD’s Next Steps
Moving forward, Matt is hoping that more resources might help TRIAD to expand in two areas: the ability to better coordinate services with other counties, and the ability to find placements for minors who have more complex needs, such as mental health and substance abuse issues.
The work of HCPS’s TRIAD team and other Care Coordinators across the state underscores how many different systems and services touch the lives of youth and play a role in their successful transition to adulthood. TNOYS is encouraged to see this type of collaboration happening across systems and geographic areas to serve trafficking survivors, and hopes to see it grow in the work of others and in our own efforts.