Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mental Illness and the Transition to Adulthood

From IOFA's in-country assessments, we have found that many of the orphaned youth transitioning to adulthood in Ethiopia and Cambodia demonstrate significant vulnerabilities to mental illnesses including trauma disorders. At the link attached below, Social Service Administration Doctoral student at the University of Chicago, Vanessa Vorhies, discusses with WBEZ the transition to adulthood for young people experiencing mental illness. As mentioned in the piece, people ages 18 through 25 are the demographic most likely to experience mental illness of some kind during this significant stage in life. In the United States, the transition to adulthood while facing mental health challenges is difficult. In poorer countries, such as Ethiopia and Cambodia, the challenges are arguably greater. IOFA's Transitions Initiative will include the issue of mental illness in its ongoing research of adolescents aging out of alternative care and include this area in our ongoing assessments in Ethiopia and Cambodia.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Children Belong with Families - A Guest Blog from Michael Pease, Director of Substitute Families for Abandoned Children (SFAC)

IOFA is delighted to present a thought provoking post from guest blogger, Michael Pease, Director of Substitute Families for Abandoned Children (SFAC).
Michael is a strong and committed advocate for reducing the institutionalization of children and supporting permanent loving families for all children. SFAC is a global ally in IOFA's Transitions Initiative effort!

Families, Children and Institutions - Michael Pease

Family is the most natural phenomenon that exists across all tribes, race and cultures. A family is where a child is born and where it should remain unless there are serious reasons why not; for example abuse, trafficking or disasters. Children are born into a family whether a couple, married or single parent. They inherit the genetics of their biological parents as well as the traditions of the extended family members and community. That is their heritage and origin. Poverty alone is not a good enough reason for placing children into institutional care as most families in poverty resist that temptation.

Many children deemed to be orphans actually have a parent or relative living somewhere. Just because they have been placed in an orphanage doesn’t make them an orphan! Organisations need to think more about the child’s longer term interest and invest more in reunification programmes or in the event there is no family or they’re not suitable, then substitute families. A family is the most natural place for children and not institutions; always has been and always will be. Of course not all families are safe or good for children but it should be the first and not the last port of call when considering the best options for orphaned and abandoned children.

Often children are placed and received into institutions because it relieves the immediate problem without thinking through the implications it has for the child and organisation in the longer term. The child may well have material provision and education but many lose out on what family means and how it operates on the smaller scale leaving them without the important life model of being parented in order to learn how to be a parent. Organisations have their own problem continually raising much needed funds to sustain their work as their numbers inevitably increase.

SFAC’s focus is to promote family based care programmes in less developed countries for orphaned and abandoned children where they have the biggest problems and the least resources.

Learn more about the critical work of SFAC at:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

IOFA featured on League of Women Voters Panel - February 21

IOFA is excited to announce that we will be presenting on a panel organized by the League of Women Voters of the LaGrange Area, to talk about human trafficking. We will also be joined by our partners at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, the Salvation Army STOP IT Program, and the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation.

For more information, visit the LaGrange Area League of Women Voters website here. As their website says, Democracy is not a spectator sport! Join us and make your voice heard!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Where does your Valentine's Day chocolate come from?

Valentine’s Day is approaching and so is the purchase and consumption of that delicious, dark, and tempting treat: chocolate. Chocolate is a commodity long revered, from the Mayans to modern day America; however, the chocolate in today’s market may have a less than regal background.

Coming to the attention of the public market in 2001 with a series of investigative articles by Knight Ridder newspapers, we learned that much of the cocoa production for our Godiva, NestlĂ©, or Hershey chocolates was harvested by children trafficked into the field.1 Some of the worst reported cases were along Africa’s western coast (Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo), which accounts for more 75 percent of the world’s cocoa market, according to Reports estimated that as many as 200,000 child slaves were working within the chocolate industry. Poverty stricken families would sell their children to traffickers, with the promise of a decent job. However, these children frequently ended up on cocoa farms, working 80 to 100 hours per week, beaten, and barely fed.1 Adolescents are often the most vulnerable to this, as they look for any form of employment to support their families. It is acknowledged that, more than a decade later, little progress has been made.

Small victories, however, such as the government’s release of their “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” and the passing of the 2010 “California Transparency in Supply Chains Act” give hope that the time is ripe for us to become more aware consumers; not just picking the chocolate with the best packaging, but rather pausing to select one that was made and produced through fair practices.

In the spirit of reducing exploitation of vulnerable youth around the world, IOFA encourages you to look more closely at what you buy this Valentine’s Day. Whether starting in the candy aisle, or taking the first step towards self-education by discovering your own “slavery footprint” at, we all have a role to play in putting an end to slavery worldwide. This February 14th, you and your sweetie can still have delicious chocolate while reducing the demand for slave labor!

Carly Loehrke, Program Development Intern

[1] Atlas, D. (2012, February 12). Debra Atlas: Find chocolate with a conscience. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

[2] Food Empowerment Project. (2010). Slavery in the Chocolate Industry. Retrieved from

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

IOFA weighs in on orphanages in Cambodia

An article in the Telegraph last week asked the critical question: Is orphanage tourism helpful or a hindrance? IOFA was one of the organizations to weigh in on the issue as it pertains to Cambodia. As we've said in the past, institutionalized care and the inevitable transition out pose risks for youth across the world.

IOFA's mention in the article:
"Research recently conducted by IOFA found that young adults who left orphanages experienced a variety of problems, including damaged or severed family connections, homelessness, exploitation, trafficking and drug abuse. Its findings, IOFA says, challenge the widespread belief that institutional care is better for children from poor families."

Friday, February 3, 2012

IOFA in New York State

Similiar to our work with the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, IOFA is helping to establish effective and successful systems of response to human trafficking in other parts of the country. In 2000, IOFA established the first anti-trafficking task force in New York City and has been working with dozens of communities around the world on the issue ever since. Below is an article about IOFA's work in New York State with the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force. For more information about how IOFA can help your county or city launch and manage a task force to fight the crime of human trafficking, call us at 773-404-8831.

Westchester Task Force Unveils Plans to Develop
Multi-Agency Protocol
Link to Full Article

The Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force, spearheaded by the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA), My Sisters’ Place, the Pound Ridge Police Department, and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, kicked off the start to their second year by unveiling a plan to develop a multi-agency anti-trafficking protocol.

According to Ali Boak, Co-founder and President of IOFA and Special Advisor to the Task Force who will lead the group through the process of protocol development said, “The process of developing the protocol is nearly as important as the outcome document itself. We will work as a group to closely examine the role and responsibilities of each agency when a case of human trafficking is identified.”

Unlike many crimes, human trafficking often requires joint cooperation between and among local, state and federal law enforcement as well as social service providers. Audrey Stone, 2nd Deputy District Attorney, Chief, Special Prosecutions Division, Westchester County District Attorney’s Office commented “The launch of our County’s Anti-Trafficking Task Force represents our first county-wide unified response to trafficking. Our success in tracking offenders and prosecuting traffickers will be enhanced through the Task Force’s joint work and cooperation.”

Nicholas Sensley, the Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy and Development Consultant for Humanity United, spoke to the task force at their first meeting of 2012 about his experience developing task forces around the world. “It’s encouraging to see the unity and interdependence of the Westchester County Anti-Trafficking Task Force. The essential seal for continuity and dependable resourcefulness is an operational protocol. “

“To ensure a victim-centered response, it’s critical that task force members have in place a set of guidelines about how law enforcement and social service providers, such as My Sisters’ Place, will work in collaboration to protect the rights of potentially trafficked persons and meet their needs once they are identified” says Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place.

The protocol development is slated to begin this Spring but the group will also continue their important efforts to train first responders across the County. To date the task force has trained over 300 law enforcement agents, hospital workers, social workers, ambulance drivers, and other professionals likely to encounter potential victims of human trafficking.

Members of the Westchester County Task Force include: Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, State Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (ICE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State Department of Labor, Westchester County Association of Police Chiefs, Westchester County Family Justice Center (FJC), Westchester County Department of Public Safety Westchester County Department of Probation, Yonkers Police Department, Yorktown Police Department, Westchester County Office for Women, Port Chester Police Department, Peekskill Police Department New Rochelle Police Department Mount Vernon Police Department, White Plains Police Department, Pound Ridge Police Department, Mount Kisco Police Department, Child Welfare Training Academy, International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA), My Sisters’ Place, Hispanic Resource Center, Victim Assistance Services, and Hudson River HealthCare.

Left to Right: Christa Stewart,Coordinator, New York State Human Trafficking Program, Manager, Bureau of Refugee & Immigrant Assistance/OTDA, Amy Siniscalchi, Director of Programs, My Sisters’ Place, Nicholas Sensley, the Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy and Development Consultant for Humanity United, Chief David Ryan, Pound Ridge Police Department, Ali Boak, Co-Founder and President, International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) and Advisor to the Task Force, Suzanne Luntz, Human Trafficking Coordinator, My Sisters’ Place, Bruce May, Victim Specialist, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).