Thursday, October 17, 2013

IOFA forges ahead: Join us at our third training in Onondaga County!

NYChildRight Trainings
IOFA logo

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)
The International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA)
are pleased to invite you to

As part of IOFA's NY ChildRight project, join us for free one and two-day trainings in Onondaga County on child trafficking.
October 22nd, 2013
From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Eventbrite - Responding to Child Trafficking in Onondaga County


October 23rd and 24th, 2013
From 8:30 a..m. to 5 p.m.
Eventbrite - Identifying and Assisting Trafficked Children in Onondaga County

Monday, October 7, 2013

Our ChildRight: New York Trainings on Child Trafficking continue! Join us in Rochester!

NYChildRight Trainings
IOFA logo

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)
The International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA)
are pleased to invite you to

As part of IOFA's NY ChildRight project, join us for free one and two-day trainings in Monroe County on child trafficking.
October 15th, 2013
From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Eventbrite - Responding to Child Trafficking in Monroe County


October 16th and 17, 2013
From 8:30 a..m. to 5 p.m.
Eventbrite - Identifying and Assisting Trafficked Children in Monroe County

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Register for our Training Series on Child Trafficking in Westchester County!

NYChildRight Trainings
IOFA logo

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)
The International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA)
are pleased to invite you to

Please join us for an upcoming training series being held in Westchester County on child trafficking.
September 25th, 2013
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Eventbrite - Responding to Child Trafficking in Westchester County


September 26th and 27, 2013
From 8 a..m. to 4 p.m. 
Eventbrite - Identifying and Assisting Trafficked Children in Westchester County

Sunday, September 1, 2013

This Labor Day, Let’s Band Together for Worker’s Rights

Dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day constitutes a yearly tribute to the contributions workers have made to the health, prosperity, and well-being of the United States. Congress officially made the first September of the month a legal holiday in 1894, reiterating that the workforce was the critical piece of the nation’s fabric.

As we celebrate our workers this Labor Day, there are still strides to be made. Working people in America have certain basic legal rights to safe, healthy and fair conditions at work, but often these rights are not respected or realized.

For example, agricultural workers are exempt from the overtime pay provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, though they often work well in excess of forty hours per week. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of domestic workers are excluded from many of the basic protections of labor laws, which include minimum wage, overtime, sick and vacation pay. Many work without health care and do not earn enough to support their own families. Though a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights has been introduced into the Illinois legislature, the bill is currently still pending.

To remedy the injustices many domestic workers face, the bill includes the following provisions:

· the right to be paid no less than the minimum wage
· the right to be paid for all work hours
· the right to at least one day off a week
· the right to meal and rest periods
· the right to paid time off

In extreme cases, workers brought from other countries to work in the United States are indebted to the people that brought them here and expected to work no matter the conditions for little or no pay. When force, fraud or coercion is involved, the situation escalates from labor exploitation to labor trafficking, a federal crime by law. According to the ILO, 21 million people are stuck in situations of forced labor globally. Of these victims, many undocumented children are subject to debt bondage and peonage, which forces them to pay off smuggling debts levied by snakeheads. Unfortunately, these children are often identified as smuggled into the United States, but not trafficked.

In the United States, labor trafficking has also been linked to several Asian communities. In fact, according to a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice Report on Trafficking, the majority of immigrant human trafficking victims in the United States are from Asia and the Pacific. To date, there have been no targeted or coordinated outreach efforts to identify Asian Pacific Islander trafficking victims in the Chicago area. IOFA’s Asian American Trafficking Outreach Project (AATOP) aims to fill the current gap in services by partnering with API organizations to build their capacity to identify and serve victims in their communities. Simultaneously, in an effort to identify more labor trafficking cases, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force is also in the beginning stages of establishing a labor trafficking committee.

As we honor the workers of our nation, let's not forget that it's also a day to advocate for those who continue to be treated unjustly.

What can you do?
-Contact your state senator to support the Illinois Domestic Worker Bill of Rights
-Become a part of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force labor trafficking subcommittee
-As a member-driven program, AATOP relies on the support of community members who serve API Chicagoans. If you serve this community and would like to join us in better serving trafficking victims, reach out to AATOP at

-Summar Ghias
Program Specialist

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Recap: The 3rd Annual Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force Conference

Last week, 200 social service providers, law enforcement, healthcare professionals and committed community members convened at the 3rd annual Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force Conference to tackle the hard issue of human trafficking. The two-day conference aimed to build a comprehensive and targeted response to both sex and labor trafficking by: 1) hosting plenary sessions that delved deeper into the nuances of pimp culture and labor trafficking as it appears across the nation; 2) providing relevant case studies to assess points of access and discuss successful convictions of traffickers; 3) examining the child welfare response to child trafficking; 4) offering law enforcement and healthcare focused workshops; and 5) honing in on effective outreach, interventions and organizational responses to human trafficking.

Speakers included Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, DCFS Human Trafficking Coordinator Stacy Sloan, Tiffany Williams from the Institute for Policy Studies and other local and national leaders in the field. The conference also included a survivor session with DC-based Chicago-born survivor and founder of Courtney’s House, Tina Frundt. Her session served to look closely at the mindsets of pimps and those they choose to control and sell, ultimately bringing real lived experience to the table as the ideal learning scenario for future prevention and intervention.

As a partner of the core team and a facilitator of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, we hope to use these lessons learned to better inform our steering committee and subcommittee work. With newly formed labor trafficking and LGBTQ subcommittees charged with better identifying and serving underserved communities, there is much work to be done.

We also want to thank the speakers, attendees and volunteers for truly making the conference a success! Until next year!

Summar Ghias,
Program Specialist, IOFA

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Proposed Federal Legislation would extend programs for homeless youth to LGBT Individuals

In the early 1970s, Americans became preoccupied with the plights of homeless and runaway youth. Congress, in response, held hearings on the issue starting in January 1972, which culminated two years later in a major piece of legislation. 1974’s Runaway Youth Act has since gone through many periodic reauthorizations and renamings before arriving at the most recent incarnation, the 2008 Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA, known officially as the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act).

Since its inception, the RHYA has served as a major source of funding for public and private nonprofit organizations that serve youth who have become disconnected from their homes and families. Among its many provisions, the law establishes three main federal programs:

1. National Communication System: The RHYA has provided the financial backing for the National Runaway Safeline (1-800-RUNAWAY), a 24-hour crisis hotline. The hotline addresses a wide spectrum of youth, from people on the streets to those in precarious living situations, by directing callers to local service providers providing guidance to youth who may just need someone to talk to.

2. Basic Center Grant Program: Under the RHYA, the Department of Health and Human Services is authorized to provide grants to local nonprofit organizations and public entities as an alternative to involving youth in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems. A minimum of $200,000 is allotted annually to each state to be distributed in grants. Grant recipients must provide short term shelter and counseling services, and they may also offer substance abuse education and STI testing to runaway and homeless youth.

3. Transitional Living Grant Program: For the many youth who experience abuse, neglect, or severe conflict at home, emergency shelters operating under the Basic Center Grant Program do not provide necessary, long-term assistance. To address these youth, the RHYA calls for grants allocated to transitional living programs, that can provide homeless and runaway youth with shelter for up to 18 months while aiding them in becoming self sufficient.

There are at least 1.6 million runaway and homeless youth in the U.S. alone

To date, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act has been largely successful in assisting at-risk or in-need youth from life on the streets, and the risks of trafficking that accompany homelessness. The National Runaway Safeline alone fields over 100,000 calls a year, while countless youth have benefited from the Basic Center and Transitional Living Programs. However, as the RHYA returns to the floor of Congress for reauthorization at the end of September, many are looking to fill one egregious gap in the legislation: a lack of protections for LGBT homeless and runaway youth.

Since the RHYA was initially passed in 1974, the LGBT community has gone through substantial changes. A far cry from the days of “We’re Here, We’re Queer” chants, LGBT causes have attracted more mainstream attention and popular support. Research also shows that people have been steadily identifying at younger and younger ages; whereas people used to come out well into adulthood, the average age at which people first self-identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or queer is now 16. As a result, more youth are faced with negative family reactions and bullying at school, leading to a large population of LGBT youth who are kicked out or decide to leave pernicious home environments. Currently, the best estimates state that between 20 and 40 % of all homeless youth identify as LGBT, depending on the area.

Unfortunately, the RHYA has failed to keep up with the times, and despite several reauthorizations, it still lacks any provisions for dealing with the substantial LGBT homeless and runaway youth population. Two Wisconsin Congresspeople, Representatives Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan, however, have recently sought to amend the RHYA.

Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-4) and Mark Pocan (WI-2) proposed the new, inclusive legislation

The legislative duo, introduced a new bill on August 1, known as the Runaway and Homeless Youth Inclusion Act (RHYIA), that would add specific provisions for LGBT youth to the extant RHYA. Highlights of Reps. Moore and Pocan’s proposed legislation include:

· Language specific to LGBT youth added to the bill: The RHYIA would state that grant programs should include outreach programs to “cultural minorities and persons who are in a minority category related to sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” (emphasis added)

· Mandates that service providers offer “culturally competent” services and that such services be made available for all youth: Frequent complaints from LGBT homeless youth mention that service providers lack knowledge of LGBT issues, preventing these youth from accessing needed services and leading many to return to the streets

· Programs specific to LGBT homeless and runaway youth, such as family intervention and reunification services or resources for family members struggling to accept a youth’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression

· A nondiscrimination section stating that no youth can be denied services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, among other factors

In the coming months, as Congress sets out to debate the RHYIA, IOFA is also working on addressing under-served communities, including LGBT youth. The nascent LGBTQ subcommittee of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force will convene community members, service agencies, and young people to develop better means of serving LGBT trafficking victims. A newly forming Labor Trafficking subcommittee will also bring attention to a side of human trafficking that is often overlooked.

Matt Kellner, Project Development Intern

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

FBI sex trafficking bust: adult prostitution arrests

A recent IOFA blog post focused on the FBI sting that led to the recovery of 105 sexually exploited teenagers. Now we are highlighting those the press may have forgotten.

Operation Cross Country aims to identify and recover child victims of sexual exploitation. Nonetheless, the sting last month undoubtedly encountered many adults involved in prostitution – both willing sex workers as well as coerced trafficking victims – in the process of searching for trafficked children.

What happens to the adults who were found in the same circumstances as the 105 recovered child victims?

FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko
They’re likely arrested on criminal charges.

In Chicagoland:
Operation Cross Country recovered 2 Commercially Sexually Exploited minors.
Operation Cross Country arrested 96 adults engaged in prostitution.[i]

While many of the detained adults are ostensibly not acting under force or coercion, there may be sex trafficking victims among those arrested.

It comes as no surprise that the sting resulted in the detainment of adults involved in prostitution, even while it was meant to be a crackdown specifically on the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The FBI press release explains: “Initial arrests are often violations of local and state laws relating to prostitution or solicitation. Information gleaned from those arrested frequently uncovers organized efforts to prostitute women and children across many states.”

Are those detained on charges of prostitution being screened as potential human trafficking victims, thus serving the ultimate goal of these stings? Will a sex trafficking conviction emerge for any of the detained adults in the coming months? Or will each one of them end in prostitution charges?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA 2000) gives legal protection to minors induced to perform commercial sex acts under the premise that those below the age of consent for sex are below the age to give consent for paid sex.[ii] The result of the legislation is that these minors are considered “victims of sex trafficking” rather than “juvenile prostitutes”.

Yet, in these weeks following the child trafficking bust, it is imperative that we remember that adults are not immune to being trafficked, either. TVPA (2000) also protects adult victims of sex trafficking, i.e., those aged 18 or over who are forced, deceived, or coerced into providing commercial sex acts. Traffickers target both children and adults, preying on vulnerabilities extending beyond age, such as immigration status, language barriers, those fleeing other unfavorable situations, and social isolation or marginalization.

IOFA and the rest of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force advocate for a victim-centered approach to all potential trafficking victims. The Task Force has worked to train law enforcement, legal service providers, and social service providers on identification and treatment protocols to ensure that each potential victim’s rights are fully realized. To that end, the Task Force is further developing best practice trainings and enhancing current human trafficking curriculum. We envision a coordinated criminal justice response in which we can trust that trafficking victims, both minors and adults, are not slipping through the cracks upon contact with law enforcement or other first responders.

While each one of the 105 recovered child victims of sex trafficking from July’s sting deserves to be celebrated, we ought not to forget the potential adult trafficking victims who were encountered in the bust and the difficult road they may have ahead.
-Alexa Schnieders
Program Development Intern


[i] Sanchez, R. “Suburban cops make prostitution arrests in nationwide sex trafficking sweep”. 30 July 2013. The Daily Herald. Accessed online 07 August, 2013.

[ii] "Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act." United States Department of Labor. Web. 07 Aug. 2013. <>.

Other sources consulted:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Welcome to IOFA, Madeline!

I first learned about human trafficking while working as a Youth Development Counselor at a group home in New York City. There I worked with teenage girls in the foster care system who had suffered extreme abuses at the hands of loved ones. Several young women were survivors of child sex trafficking, but none of them were in the clear; they were still dealing with the physical and emotional scars left by their traffickers, and there were pimps waiting by our doorstep at night, hoping to pull them back into “the life.”

Seeing these realities led me to study the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and New York’s Safe Harbour Act during my MSW studies at McGill University. After gaining a detailed understanding of CSEC and the law, I continued to advocate for human trafficking victims as a fellow at the Polaris Project in Washington, DC.  I remained active in the fight against human trafficking as a fellow at the New York State Council on Children and Families. At the Council I gained critical insight into New York’s policy making process.

Now, I am very pleased to join IOFA’s team as Project Director of ChildRight: New York. The project strategically strengthens the child welfare response to human trafficking throughout New York by:

• providing training and technical assistance to direct service providers and professionals likely to encounter trafficked youth;

• gathering data on the CSEC population in New York;

• creating a validated screening tool to identify child victims of human trafficking; and

• developing a blueprint for a statewide operational framework to continue the implementation of the Safe Harbour Act.

It is our goal to use this opportunity to make a measurable impact in the implementation of the Safe Harbour Act so that New York can better identify and serve CSEC victims, and ultimately prevent the victimization of vulnerable youth.

I look forward to learning from New York’s many experts as we work together to meet the challenge of improving the state’s response to the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Madeline Hannan, MSW
Project Director, ChildRight: New York

Monday, August 5, 2013

Update from Addis Ababa: Experiences of youth aging out of institutionalized care

August 2, 2013 
It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent over a month in Addis, and that I’ll be leaving in just three short weeks.  I am now able to get around the city confidently and comfortably, I have favorite restaurants and caf├ęs, and I’ve made many friends that I’ll be sad to leave.  Moreover, my work has finally changed from meetings with organizational staff to interviewing young people who grew up in care:  hearing their stories and experiences of transition.  This is the work that I am most interested in, and it will be the basis for IOFA’s decisions moving forward on the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia.  We want to know what the personal experience of transitioning from care institutions to independence.

Mikiyas and three research participants from Kidane Mehret
So far, Mikiyas Feyissa (IOFA’s Ethiopian representative and translator) and I have conducted four interview sessions, each with adults from different organizations.  We heard from 5 youth from CIAI who spent much of their time on the streets until CIAI’s shelter took them in.  We met with 10 individuals who grew up in L’Esperance:  an Adventist orphanage on the outskirts of Addis.  We talked to 5 adults who grew up in Abebech Gobena (Addis Ababa’s most famous orphanage) and who are now employed by that institution.  We also met 4 girls from Kidane Mehret orphanage, who have just started transitioning to independent life.  Additionally, I have been able to have great, informal conversations with two young men who grew up in care and who are now living independently.

Each individual and group has a unique story, but there are common themes that we hear over and over again.  One challenge that every youth seems to face when they leave care is the extreme culture shock of joining the outside community.  Most orphaned children grow up isolated in institutions with very little community interaction.  Basic social skills that most children pick up through observing adults are completely foreign to orphaned youth.  Tamerat, who now works as a psychologist in a Catholic orphanage, told me that he didn’t know how to buy food or clothes because everything had always been provided in the orphanage.

“[Orphaned youth] have no budgeting skills and don’t know how to save money.  They also don’t have any role models for working and responsibility.  Other children see their parents go to work every day, [orphaned youth] don’t have that experience.  They don’t know how to manage their time to make sure everything is done.”

Every group has commented on how difficult it is to converse and interact with other people outside of the institution.  The youth feel that the community will ostracize them, which leads them to be very reserved; most Ethiopians generally do not trust reserved people, so they treat the youth as though they were of bad character.  This confirms the youth’s fears and leads to further psychological distress.  The youth also have no sense of “good” and “bad” behavior in other people; they are often easily trusting of strangers.  Because their only interactions with adults have been in the orphanage, the youth often do not possess the healthy dose of suspicion that most of us employ when meeting new people, looking for a job, and searching for housing.

 Research participants answer yes/no questions by forming a Y/N shapes with their bodies
“Children who grew up in this orphanage have similar thinking and conduct. We respect people and we do not pretend like people do in the society. If we trust others; we give ourselves.  On the other hand members of the society do not give themselves, they rather are selfish.”

We are also hearing that although institutions often assist the youth in pursuing some sort of education or vocational training, the support stops as soon as they graduate.  In Ethiopia, the biggest challenge for young people is finding employment.  While young people with family support often have the option of staying with their parents while looking for a good job, orphaned youth must enter the job market immediately so that they can support themselves.  Families also function as a job search and referral system in a place where social connections are the key to getting a good job.  This lack of material and social support leads orphaned youth to take jobs that they are over-qualified for, jobs with low wages and little opportunity of advancement.

“We suffer long periods of time without any finances…Students who graduated with fewer qualifications and lower grades secure better employment.  We graduate with honors and do not get a job at all.  You can only explain this by people having contacts: relatives, families, etc., and we do not have that.”

For many of the participants in these interviews, telling their stories can be cathartic.  The four girls that Mikiyas and I interviewed at Kidane Mehret orphanage were disappointed that we would not be meeting again.  This was the first time anyone had asked them about their experience or showed an interest in how the transition was affecting them emotionally.  The group from L’Esperance meets weekly for fellowship.  They said that they discuss the challenges they face and lean on each other for support.

I am glad that IOFA’s interview process gives some of these youth the opportunity to process and reflect on their experience, as well as assurance that people do care about them and want to make the experience better for youth aging out of care.

Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The FBI Recovers 105 Sexually Exploited Children across the United States

This weekend, 105 sexually exploited teenagers were recovered in a nationwide FBI sex trafficking sting. The raid, which was the result of collaboration between FBI, local, state and federal law enforcement partners, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), covered 76 cities, recovered children as young as thirteen, and resulted in the arrest of 150 pimps.

The operation reiterated that the victimization of vulnerable youth can and does happen here in the United States in cities as varied as San Francisco, Atlanta, Detroit, and Birmingham. Ron Hosko, the assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigations division, acknowledged that some of these youth were directly recruited out of foster care facilities, pinpointing a critical point of entry and exit within the child welfare system. San Francisco saw the largest number of recovered victims from the raid of any one city; the FBI was able to find 12 victims of trafficking and arrest 17 pimps. These numbers happen to coincide with staggering statistics in California that connect foster care youth and emancipated youth with homelessness. For instance, each year in California, nearly 2,300 youth age out of foster care [1] and 65% do so without a place to live [2]. Of emancipated youth in the Bay Area, it is estimated that up to 44 percent have experienced homelessness [3].

On a national scale, one in eight endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2012 were likely to be sex trafficking victims [4]. Of the children reported missing to NCMEC who are also likely to be child sex trafficking victims, 60 percent were in foster care or group homes when they ran away [5].The vulnerabilities and characteristics common to runaway and homeless youth often place them both within the child welfare system and in the direct line of sight for traffickers, making them easy prey in a lucrative business.

Interestingly, victim assistance counselors are working to place the recovered teenagers in foster care or group homes after the sting as well, presumably given that many of them have no families to return to or safe places to call home. This reality calls for a differential response within child welfare protocol, a crisis intervention plan of action, and more comprehensive solutions to engaging homeless youth to ensure that they do not flee back into a rabbit hole of revictimization.

IOFA's Illinois Childright project spearheaded development of a statewide child trafficking response with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services this year; the resulting blueprint and designation of a human trafficking coordinator within DCFS has paved the way for new protocol and policies to guide investigations, a human trafficking indicator in the SACWIS person management screen, and the training of hundreds of frontline workers.

Now, as IOFA replicates this work in five counties across the state of New York, the common thread is crystal clear. Safe Harbor laws in states like New York, Illinois, and Connecticut transfer jurisdiction of children who are arrested for prostitution from the criminal system to the child protection system, saving youth from the categorical implications of ‘criminal’ and the life outcomes that stem from them. But legal statutes must be reinforced with operational frameworks and protocols within child welfare agencies to ensure that vulnerable youth are met with a comprehensive response no matter their point of entry into the system. It is only then that we can say that our youth are being afforded the basic rights they deserve, no matter the unfortunate hand life has dealt them.

-Summar Ghias
Program Coordinator

[1] Child Welfare Services Stakeholders Group. (2003). CWS Redesign: The Future of California’s Child Welfare Services. Sacramento: California Department of Social Services.

[2] Issue Brief, Ensuring Access to Healthy Young Adults Program for Transitioning Youth, citing a California Department of Social Services 2002 Study: Report of the Housing Needs of Emancipated Foster/Probation Youth; California Department of Social Services. (2002) Report on the Survey of the Housing Needs of Emancipated Foster/Probation Youth. Independent Living Program Policy Unit, Child and Youth Permanency Branch.




Friday, July 26, 2013

Greetings from Addis Ababa!

July 12, 2013

It has now been two weeks since I arrived in Addis, and already I have learned much about the situation of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia, as well as the obstacles they face in transitioning out of care and reintegrating into the outside community. After many long conversations and meetings with various NGOs and care institutions here, this is the general picture of the future of those children growing up in care institutions:

First, most institutions in Addis are orphanages whose main goal is international adoption for their children. As they grow older, their chances of adoption grow slim. Many of the orphanages that focus on adoption do not have plans for children who have grown too old for adoption, and the children keep hoping and dreaming that they will leave Ethiopia one day. Some care institutions move children to group homes after a certain age, or try to reintegrate them with their extended families.

Some care institutions are not interested in adoption. These institutions can be private and well-funded (like Selam Children’s Villages) or public institutions (like Kolfe and Kechene orphan homes). The private institutions usually have an organized plan for transition and reintegration, including gradual transitions to independent living, scholarships for university, vocational training, etc. The public institutions are overpopulated and understaffed, and often do not have the funding or the manpower to thoroughly address the issues that these children will face outside of the only home they have ever known.

The challenges that these children will face when they age out of care are many. The biggest challenge seems to be the culture shock that they encounter as soon as they leave the institution. Many of these children have been isolated in these care institutions for their entire lives. They often do not have the social skills necessary for community life in Ethiopia, which is a different culture than the in which they grew up; this seems to be especially true for young people from large institutions that have a more dormitory living arrangements. Some institutions work with a village model, raising the children in homes of 8-10 that effectively function as family units. Still, the children in these village-based organizations have very little contact with the surrounding communities and have developed a certain set of social and cultural skills that allowed them to function within the institution but not outside. Without social and cultural education, these young people often find it challenging to integrate themselves into the city of Addis Ababa.

A complementary challenge to transition comes from Ethiopian community-based culture itself. Most children in Addis grow up in a community in which their family is established. They often do not move far from that community, even when they reach adulthood. People do not move to new neighborhoods and communities like we do in the United States. Young people leaving care must find homes in established communities and they are often viewed as invaders. Because no one knows who they are or much about their background, the community often does not trust or engage with these young people. Being an orphan or an unsupported youth in Ethiopia also carries its own stigma—they are often seen as delinquents, which creates another barrier to community integration. In a culture and society so focused on communal interaction, this kind of social isolation can be psychologically and emotionally devastating.

The social and cultural challenges that these young people face are difficult enough, but often added to this burden is lack of support in securing basic needs. Some youth attend university, some get vocational training. The quality of education is variable, depending on not only an individual’s academic performance but also on how much financial support they get from their institution. Because Addis attracts many people from all regions of Ethiopia and because the youth are the fastest growing population in Ethiopia, there is a shortage of good jobs. Many young people cannot get a job for at least a year after graduating from college. If and when young people do find work, they often do not make enough to support themselves. It is common for young people to live with their parents after they have graduated from university or vocational school until they get married—a good 2-6 years. Without the support of a family system to fall back on, many orphaned and unsupported youth are forced to take job opportunities that others pass up—jobs that are low-paying. Some institutions do support their former residents by giving them housing and food allowance, but these are in the minority.

Fortunately, the Ethiopian government is finally realizing that there is a service gap in reintegration and transition support. Along with moving away from the traditional dormitory/orphanage model of care for unsupported or orphaned children, the government is trying to incorporate models of care that mimic community and village life. UNICEF Ethiopia is also collaborating with Kolfe and Kechene orphanages in Addis on reintegration education and support programs, though the funding and results of their efforts are still unclear.

All of this information has come from administrative staff of various NGOs and care institutions here in Addis Ababa. I am very interested to hear from those individuals who have transitioned into the city of Addis about their own experiences, to hear their own individual stories.

If you are interested in learning about the organizations with which IOFA will be working with this summer, here is a list. Each is doing great work and deserves to be known.

Women In Self Employment (WISE)
Selam Children’s Village
AHOPE Ethiopia
Children’s Heaven
The Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA)
The Italian Center for Children’s Aid (CIAI)
Kingdom Vision International
Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia (RCVTE)

Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern
Photo 1: AHOPE for Kids
Photo 2: ReTrak Vocational Training Program

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Treating Children as Victims, Not Criminals

Child Sex Trafficking is one of the worst forms of human trafficking and child sexual abuse. It is a large, and growing, problem throughout the world and in the U.S.

Fast Facts

  • 50% of transnational victims of human trafficking are children
  • In India, it is estimated that 270,000-400,000 children are working in prostitution
  • In Nepal, the problem is spread out all over the entire country. It is estimated that there are 800 girls working in the sex trade in the Kathmandu valley alone
  • Young boys are often victimized in Pakistan ; often they are first hooked on drugs before they are forced to prostitute themselves
  • In Sri Lanka, the average age of a child who is prostituted is 8-15 years old

What about in the U.S.?

  • There are an estimated 300,000 American children at risk of sexual exploitation
  • The average age that a girl is first victimized and prostituted is 12-14
  • Over 50% of domestic victims are classified as runaway youth living on the street
  • 55% of street girls become entangled in prostitution networks
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children conservatively estimates that 100,000 children are exploited each year for prostitution in the United States

What is being done to help these children in the US?

There are numerous steps that are being taken in the US to combat human trafficking. One important legal one is the passage of legislation known as the 'Safe Harbor Acts', acts that are intended to protect victims of child exploitation. The goals of the Safe Harbor Laws are to 
  1. Prevent minor victims from being prosecuted for prostitution and
  2. Protect Child victims of sex trafficking by providing them with specialized services
Safe Harbor Laws are important because they treat victims as victims as it gives them access to the services they need, and the ability to escape 'the Life' instead of being victimized twice; once by the pimps and a second time by the system.

New York was the first state to enact the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act in 2008. Several other states followed, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Washington. The Texas Supreme Court also ruled on a case that children cannot be charged with prostitution.

In Illinois, the Safe Harbor Act for Exploited Children was signed by Governor Quinn on August 20, 2010.
Some key points
  • If a child is under the age of 18, they are immune from prosecution of prostitution offenses. This is a change from the previous age of 16
  • Children who are victimized by human trafficking or by prostitution now fall within the definition of an 'abused child.' This means that any law enforcement official who takes a child under 18 into custody for a prostitution offense must immediately repeat an allegation of Human Trafficking to DCFS. Within 24 hours, DCFS must begin their initial investigation
  • The term 'Juvenile Prostitute' is eliminated from the criminal code, and replaced with minors engaged in prostitution.
  • Finally, mistake of age is now not allowed as a criminal defense. A pimp or solicitor cannot argue that they thought the minor was above the age of 18
New York has similar legislation. In regards to services, the legislation goes a couple steps further to ensure that victims have an advocate during all steps of the process.
  • Advocates: Must accompany child to court
  • Housing: Safe Houses must, either directly or through written agreement with another agency, 
    • Housing
    • Assessment
    • Case management
    • Medical care
    • Legal services
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Must have service plan for
    • Counseling and therapeutic services
    • Education services including life skills, and planning services to transition back into the community
  • OCFS must offer appropriate services to a sexually exploited child
  • Section gives the department or any person the authority to file a care and protection petition or a CHINS petition if a sexually exploited child is unable or unwilling to participate in services
However, this is only nine out of 50 states that have such legislation. It is up to individuals to motivate their representatives to pass similar Safe Harbor Legislation. See the Polaris Project on ways that you can take action:

Project Development Intern

Monday, July 22, 2013

There is no (place like) home.

27,000,000: the estimated number of human trafficking victims in the world
          1644: the estimated number of US beds available to trafficking victims

You do the math.

Housing options for trafficking victims are severely limited nationwide. According to a Polaris Project survey, there are a total of 529 documented beds designated for trafficking victims, and another 1115 that are offered to trafficking victims among other vulnerable populations. A total of eight of these beds are in Illinois.

This is no small problem.

Last week the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force hosted a Housing Summit in order to connect key agencies that provide housing and shelter options for vulnerable populations like trafficking victims. The Summit sought to identify the gaps in the existing systems and to begin the long-term discussion on innovative ways to tackle them.

Challenges in the current system

The needs of trafficking victims are complex and diverse. Domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and other temporary care systems have been viable resources, but they are often not equipped to provide the protection and trauma-based care that trafficking victims need. A lively discussion at the Housing Summit last week pinpointed the abundant challenges.

When providing support and resources for trafficking victims, a major obstacle is the diversity of the populations. Trafficking is a phenomenon that transcends socio-economic, educational, gender, age, and background differences, leading the victim services needed to be equally diverse. A safe setting for one victim may not be a wise option for another, a prime example being a victim needing protection from a perpetrator, necessitating security, confidentiality, and distance. Nonetheless, this type of setting cannot be provided for every victim, especially in open-access homeless shelters. A soft bed does not always equate a safe place.

Another frustration with the current system is the disorganization of resources and collaboration. First responders are not guaranteed a secure next step in regards to social service agencies because there is not an organized protocol nor centralized database for the various resources available to trafficking victims. Each agency is dependent on its own connections, none of which are ultimately responsible for the trafficking victim’s placement.

This concern overlaps into apprehension about some agencies’ lack of experience with trafficking victims. Safe bed providers – shelters, private families, and prison cells (yikes) may not have trained staff who understand the flight risk of trafficking victims, the trauma-based care needed in all communication with victims, and the safety needs – both physical and psychological – of the victims. Direct service providers express concern that faith-based supporters and other well-meaning individuals may not advocate a victim-centered approach to care and may not have a firm grasp on how to deliver trauma-based care.

In the most practical of concerns, social service providers also highlight difficulty with transportation of clients to the shelters. Independent agencies may be responsible to accompany trafficking victims anywhere from two miles to 200, depending on the location of the shelter. Public transportation may not be an appropriate option, and there is no streamlined response to this need. While calling 311 is an option, the service obligates a visit to a police station or a medical center before offering transportation. Moreover, given the tension between law enforcement and victims (many of whom have been mistreated by law enforcement officers, may have been threatened with deportation, or may have been denied help in the past) as well as between law enforcement and social service providers, this is an unattractive option. Social service providers have found the bureaucratic requirements involved in attaining permission from the Department of Human Services to take advantage of 311 transportation services to be more of an obstacle than helpful.

In the same vein, bureaucratic hoops regarding documentation for victims have proven to be destructive to obtaining safe housing for trafficking victims. Many victims lack 1) documentation at all, 2) matching documentation, or 3) documentation of legal status. Shelters are unable to verify victims’ ages, creating liabilities that they often cannot afford. They may not be able to service undocumented individuals or they may have other clientele requirements that bar particular trafficking victims from receiving care.

Some trafficked populations face more obstacles than others. Particularly under-resourced groups are trafficked males, trafficked transgender populations, and labor-trafficked populations (in contrast to female sex trafficking victims). Many of the presently utilized safe beds are for victims of domestic violence, which may be appropriate placements for female victims of sex trafficking. Few shelters have the necessary protection for male victims, and even fewer have appropriate options for transgender or transsexual victims. Placing a trans-woman in a male shelter, for example, can have traumatizing effects. Cook County lacks safe spaces and trained staff for these populations.

To that effect, a lack of “flexibility and common sense” on behalf of the shelters has presented unnecessary challenges in obtaining safe housing for trafficking victims. Treatment varies not only from shelter to shelter, but from staff person to staff person, and the lack of continuity has been a primary frustration for social services seeking provision for trafficking victims.

This list of concerns is far from exhaustive.

Looking ahead

While the problem is daunting, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force and supporters are ready to wrestle the issue. The Housing Summit last week began the dialogue on potential responses to these challenges through innovation and collaboration.

Participants in the Summit discussed the physical shelter and housing options. Currently utilized are shelters for victims of domestic violence, for youth, and for people who are homeless, though some of the shortcomings are detailed above. Hotels also have potential for emergency placements, especially in strategic partnership with supportive hotels. An option for transitional housing is private family placements, which involve extensive training and liability for the families agreeing to offer shelter or housing to victims. For long-term placements, there are innovative models of scatter-site housing as well as communal living. There are many possibilities to continue exploring.

Participants also discussed the need for stages of change and providing housing for all three levels of need: emergency, transitional, and long-term placements. Particularly highlighted was potential for a tiered system of services to account for each level and stage of need, as well as for the diversity of trafficking victims’ profiles (age, gender, sexual orientation, legal status, familial status, type of trafficking, and more).

The Summit suggested improvements to the current system of response as well as the creation of new resources and new shelters specifically for victims of trafficking. Potential funding opportunities were also brought to the forefront to prioritize the coordination of trafficking victim resources.

This is just the beginning of the discussion. The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force and the Summit participants will not rest until assured that human trafficking victims have safe spaces to the do the same.

The Housing Summit is just one component of the Task Force’s efforts to improve services to trafficking victims. We envision a strategic network of law enforcement and social service providers able to meet the various needs of each victim.

Alexa Schnieders
Program Development Intern

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Welcome to Addis Ababa, Sarah!

July 4, 2013
After finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the incredible opportunity to live and work in South India, teaching girls and young women conversational English and volunteering at different women’s organizations.  It was there that I fell in love with youth-centered service work, and am now pursuing my Masters in Social Work at the University of Chicago, focusing on international social work.  After graduating, I hope to find work with an internationally-focused organization that invests in, supports, and empowers vulnerable youth and young adults around the world. 
I am excited to start my work as the Transitions Initiative Intern with IOFA!  This summer, I will be in Addis Ababa doing research on the experience of adolescents who have left institutional care (orphanages, group homes, etc.) to make their own way in the world.  Youth and young adults who lack the support of family networks face severe challenges in transitioning to adulthood, and are much more vulnerable to the problems of exploitation, poverty, and violence.  Throughout the next two months, I will be working with local organizations to identify and interview individuals who grew up without traditional family support and record their transition stories.
I have been in Addis for only 10 days, but am already falling in love with the city and its people.  As I meet with organizational directors, humanitarian workers, and children at group homes/orphanages, I am learning much about the needs of these youth and am energized and inspired to continue the amazing work that IOFA does with the Transitions Initiative. 
Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern

Monday, July 15, 2013

LGBTQ Youth Homelessness, Trafficking Risks, and Suggested Solutions

It is no secret that, in many ways, LGBTQ youth have it rough. Anyone with internet access can look up startling statistics about the causes and consequences of disproportionate homelessness that continue to plague young queer individuals. Some highlights include:
  • Approximately 20 and 40% of American homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ, despite less than 10% of Americans identifying as LGBT.   
  • Higher incidences of mental health problems and substance abuse among homeless LGBTQ youth, compared to their straight homeless counterparts.   
  • Discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) individuals in many areas, such as employment (26% of survey respondents claiming they were fired for their gender identity), harassment (reports from 78% of survey respondents), and housing (19% of respondents indicating that they were denied a home or apartment on the basis of their gender identity).   
  • A large group (42% of the sample surveyed) of queer youth in out-of-home (i.e., foster care, juvenile detention facilities, on the streets) indicating that family conflicts due to their LGBT identity led to removal or ejection from their homes

Often, the studies that produce this data are supplemented with anecdotes wherein LGBTQ youth detail the abuses and hardships that stem from intolerance against their sexual minority status. Motifs of neglect, discrimination, and apathy weave through these individuals’ reports. For example, several transgender youth report being put into uncomfortable or inappropriate situations in shelters and state facilities that classify residents on the basis of birth gender; one male-to-female individual in a group home for boys had to petition for a court order when shelter officials refused to let her shower alone, instead of with the rest of the male cohort she lived with. Reports of negligence from authority figures also surfaced more than once. Stories range from queer victims of assaults being told by social workers that they were “asking for it” to gay and lesbian individuals being convicted as sex offenders, and having to deal with the stigma and legal restrictions associated with that label, for consensual, non-violent sex acts that are condoned among heterosexual youth.

By no means can these alarming stats and stories paint an accurate portrait of the LGBTQ community at large, and the healthy skeptic in me is always wary of taking any study or datum at face value or extrapolating research too far. Like all other reports, the studies I read through are not immune to the same mundane sampling biases and insufficiencies or erroneous interpretations that permeates research, not to mention the additional difficulties that accompany working on the intersections of marginalized, transient, and (understandably) distrustful LGBTQ and homeless communities.
Nonetheless, a relatively clear image emerges from the murky mix of quantitative data and anecdotal evidence of a community of adolescents subjected to systemic abuses, offered inadequate social services, and at high risk of trafficking.

Although phrases like “the Defense of Marriage Act” or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” will be foreign to future generations, many reports indicate that the LGBTQ community still has much work to do, particularly for its homeless youth. The social workers, activists, and researchers who have studied the LGBTQ homelessness phenomenon have put together, in their various reports, a list of strategy and policy suggestions that youth care providers can implement to prevent these vulnerable youth from “falling through the cracks” and into the hands of traffickers. These recommendations can be broadly grouped into three categories: suggested services, legislation, and policies. They range from simple to systemic to perhaps a little radical, and a few of the key suggestions are listed below:

1. Services and Programs
  • Family Intervention Programs and Counseling: Since conflicts between parents and their children over the youth’s LGBTQ status often lead to the youth being removed or kicked out of their houses and left homeless, family counseling services, youth empowerment programs, and family acceptance programming could help minimize family rejection of queer youth and thus the amount of so-called “throwaway” youth.
  • LGBTQ Dedicated Housing: While there is a general demand for more housing for homeless youth—in 2005 alone, over 4500 individuals were turned away from federally sponsored services and centers through the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act simply due to a lack of capacity—there is a particular need for dedicated LGBTQ housing options. Existing housing services often fail to be inclusive, safe spaces for the LGBTQ community, because of general discrimination or birth gender-based housing requirements that fail to take into account one’s gender identity. Such gaps may leave youth with no place to turn but the streets, where conditions are worse and risks of becoming trafficked increase. Two recent laudable initiatives—a federal grant of up to $900,000 for transitional housing programs for homeless LGBTQ youth and a new housing development in Chicago’s Boystown for LGBTQ seniors—provide good examples for future programs.
  • Research: Nearly all of the current studies on LGBTQ youth and homelessness call for more data and more funding for future studies, so that service providers and policy makers can get a better sense of the community’s and the youths’ needs.

2. Legislation
  • Safe Schools: Homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools is well documented and is a major contributor of absenteeism, mental health problems, and thus homelessness among LGBTQ youth. Proposed legislation, like the Student Nondiscrimination Act, seeks to emulate Title IX’s protection of women in schools and prohibit intolerance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.    
  • Decriminalization of Homelessness and “Survival Crimes”: The debilitating and stressful conditions of homelessness—which, as one study reports, affect LGBTQ adolescents more than non-queer youth—may drive individuals to substance abuse, theft, or so-called “survival sex.” Rather than simply punishing these individuals and burdening them with the legal and social stigmas of being criminals that leads to employment and housing discrimination, continued criminal activity, and higher risks of trafficking, some of the studies advocate restorative justice approaches that decriminalize homelessness, vagrancy, and crimes that needy individuals commit in favor of providing them with healing and empowering services. Illinois, for instance, passed the Illinois Safe Children’s Act in 2010, which eliminated “juvenile prostitution” from the criminal code and recognized all prostituted minors as trafficking victims rather than perpetrators, a major stride in protecting vulnerable youth.

3. Policies for Service Providers
  • Universal Definitions among Agencies: What one government agency labels “homelessness” may be considered “sleeping on a friend’s couch” by another program. Creating universal and broad definitions of homelessness, that include less conventional but still relevant forms of homelessness, among service providers and agencies would ensure that more at-risk individuals are eligible for programs.    
  • Nondiscrimination for Grant Recipients: Federal funds go to a broad range of service providers and organizations, but there is no protocol to ensure that grant recipients carry out LGBTQ-inclusive practices in the programs. Having some form of oversight to guarantee that grant-receiving organizations do not discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, either explicitly or informally, may diffuse some of the distrust that queer youth have for service providers and make services more accessible.    
  • Implementing LGBTQ-friendly Policies: Small steps, like policies that prevent the disclosure of youth clients’ sexual orientations or gender identities without their consent or that allow LGBTQ clients to use their preferred instead of legal names, can make an organization more queer-inclusive.    
  • “Cultural Competency” Training: Each study suggested that agencies offer a curriculum that educates employees in LGBTQ issues to dispel misconceptions and biases. Earlier this year, a prison in England offered inmates and employees programming for LGBT history month. The prison has received much praise for its innovative and inclusive program, but the best endorsement comes from one prisoner who explained how the training transformed him from a self-confessed “gay bashing” homophobe to an ally of the queer community.

Looking forward, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force in Illinois seeks to address these issues affecting LGBTQ homeless youth by collaborating with key LGBTQ community organizations and by working directly with the young people themselves. The New York-based ChildRight Project, IOFA’s new initiative that will equip child welfare workers to assist youth trafficking victims, also aims to address these concerns.

National Center for Transgender Inequality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: “Injustice at Every Turn”
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: “An Epidemic of Homelessness”

Matt Kellner