Wednesday, December 22, 2010

IOFA End of the Year Call for Help!!!!

It’s that time of year again. Our mail boxes fill up with holiday appeals from dozens of organizations. How do you make the decision about where to invest your resources? Simply put, you need to believe in the work and trust the organization, implicitly. Obviously, we are asking you to invest in the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA). But first, we want to build your trust and explain our work.
Why give to IOFA?
· The growing epidemic of human trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable young people around the world.
· Our dedication to finding solutions for the most vulnerable and at risk: orphaned youth aging out of care, youth living in areas of conflict, young people from minority or indigenous groups, young people living in extreme poverty.
· Our decade plus of experience and achievements – more than 35 direct service and research projects designed and implemented, work in over 20 countries, more than 8,000 youth reached, more than 6000 law enforcement, legal, and social service professionals trained.
· Our commitment to effective and streamlined operations - You don’t have to be big to have a large impact!
· Our dedication to local partnership and grassroots collaboration.
Where are we going?
In our second decade of service, IOFA is launching a new strategic plan that will expand our scope of work, build off our past achievements, and create innovative solutions to the most critical issues faced by vulnerable young people. The focus will be on two core projects:
The Project for the Prevention of Adolescent Trafficking (PPAT) – a multi-disciplinary effort that organizes community-based organizations to build strong protections and response mechanisms for young people at greatest risk for human trafficking, and sexual and labor exploitation.
The Transitions Project - a comprehensive and multifaceted support program for young people aging out of orphanages and institutions.
Our goal for the next three years is to reach tens of thousands of young people at greatest risk through both these projects. We are currently collaborating with partners in Ethiopia and Cambodia, and are working tirelessly to launch both project models in those countries in 2011. Our target fundraising goal for these two projects and our total strategic plan is $300,000. Yikes. Seems like a lot. But with your help we can reach this goal!
What can you do to help?
1. Choose IOFA as your end of year donation. If 200 of our supporters gave $100, we would raise $20,000 and enable phase one of The Transitions Project in Cambodia and Ethiopia.

2. Increase your gift from last year. We all know money is tight but if you gave $50 why not $75?

3. Contribute to our Investment in Global Youth Fund (IVY). By becoming a monthly or quarterly donor to IOFA, you will help ensure that IOFA can continue critical anti-trafficking and youth support work in Chicago, New York, and around the world.

4. Follow IOFA’s work and impact at our website ( site to be launched Winter2010) and blog for all current IOFA info (

IOFA is growing. We are one of the few organizations that focus specifically on the most vulnerable within this age group, particularly in the developing world. We are being called upon by agencies and organizations in the United States and around the world to help protect and respond to young people in crisis. We can only do this with your help. We hope you will continue to support our work and invest in our efforts.
Please go to our website – – and make an online donation today!
Shelby, ED

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

IOFA's New Program Specialist - Sehla Ashai

Hello all,

My name is Sehla Ashai, and I am thrilled to begin my second week of work at IOFA as a Program Specialist, where I will be working primarily on human trafficking issues.

My interest in human trafficking began as an attorney representing victims of trafficking in immigration matters, which resonated strongly with my long-standing interests in gendered violence and labor exploitation. At IOFA, I will be building on my experience representing victims, and I will provide technical assistance to the new Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, and contribute to IOFA's Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking Project.

Before working as an immigration attorney, I was a labor organizer for Chicago area taxi drivers, clerked for a judge in Ann Arbor, was a research fellow in Kashmir, interned at a domestic violence shelter in Pakistan, and taught summer school in Baltimore City. Before I joined IOFA, I was also a legal consultant to a non-profit in Haiti working on child trafficking issues. These varied experiences reinforced my passion for social justice work and confirmed my love for working with youth, both domestically and abroad.

Although IOFA is more than a decade old, the organization is at an exciting stage with a new, visionary strategic plan, and I feel incredibly privileged to join at this juncture. Much of my work will involve reaching out to community organizations, law enforcement, and other players who are involved in the fight against human trafficking, so expect to hear from me soon!



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call to Action to Combat Child and Adolescent Sex Trafficking

Hi all,

Please see a call to action from ECPAT - End Child Prostitution and Trafficking - to support passage of a bill to combat child and adolescent trafficking, a core issue of IOFA's work. IOFA is helping to implement the new Illinois Safe Children's Act that decriminalizes minors involved with the sex prostitution. It's difficult to imagine but before this law, a 15 year girl forced into prostitution in Chicago would be charged in juvenile court and not seen as a victim. It's through this legislation and the proposed bill described below that the US can better confront the problem of child trafficking and provide adequate response and support to its young victims.

Please take the time to make this call or sign the petition today!


We are gearing up for our Nov 17th National (Call-In) Day of Action to help pass HR 5575, the "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010," to support young sex trafficking survivors and combat and address the sex trafficking of children across America. You can read a summary here:

In the United States, there are less than 100 beds in shelters prepared to provide assistance to child victims of sex trafficking. Yet an estimated 100,000 children are exploited in prostitution each year in this country.
If passed, HR 5575 would provide much needed funds for therapeutic services. It would also increase resources for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute the traffickers and predators that victimize our children.

Taking action and being a part of our National (Call-In) Day of Action on11.17 is as easy as 1,2,3

1. Find your member of Congress by going to and entering your complete zip code in the top left “Find Your Representative” section.

2. Call the House operator at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected with your representative's office. Once connected to your rep's office, urge them to support and pass H.R 5575. A sample call script is below:

"Hi, my name is________ , and I am a constituent living in [town/city]. I'm calling to urge Congress(woman/man)______ to co-sponsor and support H.R.5575, a bi-partisan bill that seeks to combat and address the sex trafficking of children in America. I am very concerned about this issue because despite the tens of thousands of victims who need help, only a handful of shelters and services exist to address their intensive needs. It's time for Congress to act. Will the Congress(woman/man) co-sponsor and support this important legislation?"

3. Be Counted! Sign our tracking petition here ( so we can track our impact!

Taking action on Nov 17 will take less than 5 minutes but our collective action can give thousands of young sex trafficking victims across the U.S. the care and support they need and deserve.

The National Day of Action is being sponsored by the National Coalition to End Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (partial list): A Future. Not A Past., ECPAT-USA, Polaris Project, Rebecca Project, Shared Hope International and Women's Funding Network.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The option to boomerang?

As IOFA continues its work to help transition youth from orphanage care, we are asking important, difficult questions about the factors influencing successful transitions to adulthood. IOFA is in the process of designing “The Transitions Project”, a multi-faceted and sustainable support project for young people from this highly vulnerable population. The following entry is the first in a series of discussions about methods of intervention and the best ways we can help our youth transition safely.
Today’s topic: Does a college degree mean independence?

Google “boomerang kids” and see what comes up: articles titled, “Hi mom…I’m back!” and “Why grown kids come home,” fill the page. The term describes the ever-growing population of young adults who return to their parents for housing; Twentysomething Inc, a research firm in Philadelphia, tells us 85% of college graduates move back to their parents’ after graduation. Many fingers point to the economy and sky-high rent prices, to insurmountable debt incurred by rising tuition costs.
It’s interesting, then, that the world seems to view a college education as the ultimate step toward independence. If any efforts are poured into helping youth to transition from child welfare systems, college admission is typically at the forefront of programmatic goals. This is particularly noticeable in developing countries with a large Western NGO presence. Is this because university admission is a concrete, measurable success? “Independent living skills” are far more vague and difficult to identify than an acceptance letter or a transcript.
While many champion the need for college, some child welfare groups in Cambodia express frustration that university admission is the primary target for Western-funded orphanages. Kids often enter care with nutritional deficits, many years behind in school, or with traumatic life experiences, and they often face substantial education delays. Entering an environment where college attendance is touted may be inspiring for some, but unrealistic and damaging for others – particularly if the resources for tuition are not dependable. In one orphanage I interviewed in a rural Cambodian province, youth aged 17 were in primary school, were poised to leave orphanage care in one year, and had no plans for future independent living except for medical or law school. The same orphanage reports its graduated youth to have experienced dire fates: labor trafficking, forced marriage, gang enrollment.
Should we strive to make university available to our most vulnerable youth? Of course. Should it be the crux of a plan for independence? Just as university does not equate to independent adulthood in the U.S., we need to consider other ways that will promote safe, happy, and healthy independence. Most youth leaving child welfare systems just don’t have the option to be “boomerang kids.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Trainings, Trainings, and More Trainings! Help!

Hi all,

We've been neck deep in trainings these past two weeks with more on the way!

Why do we do so many trainings? (I ask myself quietly, as I wake up at 7am to haul my Suburu out to yet another trafficking seminar in a far flung spot in Illinois)

I have to be honest, trainings wear me out. Physically. At this age, it's not from nerves. I'm passionate about the topic and the work that we do, so as a result my body temperature seems to involuntarily shoot through the roof at the podium. I tend to look like I ran a marathon by the end of it all or like Shelly Duvall after being chased by Jack Nicholson in the Shining. Worth it? Absolutely. Plus I tend to lose a couple of pounds to boot. Here I am this week training a group of law enforcement professionals. Can you see the beads of sweat?

At almost every training, we see a definite change in how people perceive the problem of human trafficking. IOFA conducts both pre and post training surveys, and inevitably there is a significant percentage increase in participants who believe they have come in contact with a victim of trafficking in some way or another - after they learn what trafficking and victims actually look like. It's a very powerful process that changes perspectives and ultimately saves lives.

That's why we train. That's why I heat up.

Recent Training Updates...

Last Thursday, October 14, IOFA trained over 30 victim witness advocates at the 2010 State of Illinois Prosecutor-Based Victim Advocate Association annual conference in Moline, Illinois. Victim witness advocates are extremely important in the effort to identify trafficking cases. Their purpose is to provide services and support to victims of crime involved with prosecution of a case. Many victims of human trafficking are often discovered through the investigation and prosecution of other types of crimes including domestic violence, immigration disputes, sexual assuault, etc. Victim witness advocates are critical to identiyfing a potential trafficking victim and getting them the appropriate services and assistance. The group was attentive and very interested in the topic, many indicating after the training that they now realize they had encountered potential victims of trafficking and could have provided even more assistance to these individuals, if only they knew then what they learned that day.

On Wednesday, October 20th, IOFA launched the first of six training seminars for law enforcement about identifying and responding to human trafficking from the law enforcement perspective. The trainings are being conducted through Mobile Training Units (MTUs) across the state. IOFA is helping to develop and deliver these trainings in coordination with the Illinois Rescue and Restore Coalition and Sgt. Carla Crubisic from the Chicago Police Department. The first seminar was held in Schaumberg, Illinois and included participants from surrounding precincts in the northeastern areas of the state.

I tell you, it's a difficult sell sometimes to get overworked law enforcement, social service, and legal professionals to be open to taking on yet another social problem. But when they hear the scope, and the consequences, particuarly to young trafficking victims, there is always a passionate interest and desire to know more.

Have a great weekend. More trainings next week. Next week's blog topic: "Aren't Adolescents (aka Teenagers) Really Annoying?" A sneak peek answer: yes and no.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Hello from IOFA's new intern!

I’d like to introduce myself as the new intern at IOFA! I’m so excited to see IOFA’s work and to participate in their innovation. My interest in serving vulnerable adolescents has developed over a number of life experiences and jobs – perhaps most importantly, my family adopted internationally, so I have always been very connected to international child welfare issues and interested in child welfare systems, both locally and abroad. Work has carried me from helping to transition youth to independence from foster care in Miami and the Bronx – which exposed me to trends and terrifying prospects faced by youth in American foster care – to working in international adoption in New York. It was this experience at an adoption agency that inspired me to wonder, then research, and then worry fervently, “What happens to the youth in alternative care internationally who are not adopted? How do they fare?” I traveled to Kenya with these questions, working with adolescents “aging out” of orphanage care in rural Ngong, and was deeply troubled by the barriers and dangers they faced, and frustrated by the dearth of published research and support provided to this population. I enrolled at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and have just returned from Cambodia researching this very issue, about which I have become so impassioned. It is clear to me that adolescents face unique and complex issues that so few social service agencies are equipped to address, and I am thrilled to find IOFA as a tailored expert in protecting this population from trafficking and exploitation. I am excited to be a part of IOFA’s continually expanding project base both domestically and internationally, as the support to vulnerable adolescents is such an important need with such little international attention. I’m sure I’ll be back soon with updates – thanks for reading!
Susan Rosas

Monday, October 4, 2010

Conference Recap; Cook County State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez Announces Partnership with IOFA

Hi all,

Thanks to all of you who attended last weeks Child Trafficking Conference at Loyola University and for attending the IOFA-related presentations and events. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak about the Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking project with our partner, Katherine Kaufka Walts at the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University. As mentioned, The purpose of the project is to address systemic gaps in policies, protocols, and practice for proper identification and response to child and youth victims of trafficking within child welfare systems. Our first implementing partner was the Illinois Department for Child and Family Services and we have received a continuation grant of $37,000 from the Chicago Community Trust for meeting the final project outcomes.

IOFA and CHRC will publish a monograph outlining the BCWR project in October 2010. It will be available online and by order via CHRC. Be on the look out for an upcoming announcement on how to order and access copies.

We had a slight change of plans for the evening film event. Guy Jacobson had to return to Israel for a family medical emergency. In his place, we screened his latest documentary, Redlight, in it's entirety. Around 50 people showed up for the event, with a good cross section of professionals, students, and the general public. We will be talking about the film on the blog in the near future, particularly about the use of children in films where they are required to talk about traumatic experiences without protection of their identities. The film was very intense and the audience was very overwhelmed by the end of it. If you attended the event, we welcome feedback on your experience, what you thought of who participated in the film, and any other issues related to the content. A beautifully filmed piece that begs further discussion.

Finally, IOFA is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Cook County State's Attorney's office and the Salvation Army, in support of the new Enhanced Collaborative Model to Combat Human Trafficking Grant funded by the Office of Victims of Crime at the Department of Justice. IOFA will be supporting these two organizations in facilitation of the grant and will help to develop and manage a county-wide anti-trafficking task force. For 10 years, IOFA has built collaborative and interdisciplinary task forces in the US and around the world for the purposes of better victim identification, response, and prosecution of human trafficking cases. As the key note speaker, Cook County State Attorney, Anita Alvarez announced the partnership with IOFA and the Salvation Army during her opening remarks on day one of the conference. We will bring on a new staff person to serve as our IOFA Program Specialist to help both partners implement the project in the coming years. Very exciting news. We'll be officially announcing the details of this new project in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned to IOFA-Talk to learn more about our new strategic plan, upcoming projects, and new staff and interns coming on board!


Monday, September 20, 2010

IOFA at the National Child Trafficking and Exploitation Conference, Loyola University


We are excited to announce that IOFA will be presenting at this week's National Child Trafficking and Exploitation Conference at Loyola University (Water Tower Campus), Chicago, Illinois, September 22-23rd.

The Center for the Human Rights of Children (CHRC) at Loyola University is organizing the conference. Shelby French, Executive Director will be speaking on a panel about the Building Child Welfare Response to Child Trafficking project at 1:30pm, Wednesday, September 22nd. The Building Child Welfare Response project is a collaborative effort between IOFA and CHRC, and the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. The purpose of the project is to address systemic gaps in policies, protocols, and practice for proper identification and response to child and youth victims of trafficking. IOFA and CHRC will be publishing a monograph outlining the project in October 2010. This is a very exciting and ground breaking effort. To date, there has been little state or federal effort to integrate protective and response mechanisms in state or private child welfare organizations for child and youth victims of trafficking. We hope to replicate this project in other states and with other child-focused organizations nationally and globally.

We'll be talking more about the importance and the impact of this project in the future here at IOFA-Talk!

Additionally at this week's conference, IOFA will be co-sponsoring a free evening film event focusing on child trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia. Following are details for the event:

"Redlight" and "Holly"
Film Excerpts and Commentary from Award Winning Director, Guy Jacobson

Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Loyola University, Water Tower Campus
23 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL
This event is free and open to the public

Hope to see you all there!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Welcome to IOFA Talk!

The International Organization for Adolescents welcomes you to IOFA Talk!  We are very excited about getting this new endeavor started.  We invite all visitors to join us in our efforts to support vulnerable young people around the world. 

IOFA Talk will focus on:

  • New IOFA projects and campaigns
  • Emerging and critical problems faced by vulnerable youth world wide
  • Voices of professionals and key stakeholders in the protection of vulnerable youth
  • Responding to questions and concerns from our supporters
  • The voices of youth themselves; giving our project participants an opportunity to share their experiences
Last year IOFA celebrated it's 10th anniversary.  As we emerge into our second decade, we are going through a process of reinvigoration and renewal.  Activities coming up in the next few months include:

  • A new 3 year strategic plan for the organization
  • A newly designed website and blog
  • Announcements of new partnerships and areas of focus
  • A renewed fundraising and outreach campaign
  • And results and outcomes of our current efforts and ongoing projects
We invite you to visit, comment, and contribute.

The mission of IOFA is to improve the lives of young people by addressing critical and emerging issues affecting vulnerable adolescents around the world.  IOFA envisions a world where adolescents and youth are no longer subject to exploitation, violence and neglect; a world where every young person is able to exercise their human rights and realize their full potential as positive and productive members of society.

We strongly believe that this new avenue of communication will support our mission and help us achieve our vision.

Looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Shelby French
Executive Director