Abstract: Human Trafficking Efforts to Protect Connecticut's Vulnerable Children and Youth: Addressing Social Work's Grand Challenges (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Human Trafficking Efforts to Protect Connecticut's Vulnerable Children and Youth: Addressing Social Work's Grand Challenges

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Miriam Valdovinos, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, CO
Rebecca Thomas, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut, CT
Lorin Mordecai, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Maritza Vasquez Reyes, MA, LCSW, PhD student, University of Connecticut, CT
Background and Purpose: Research continues to cite the growing number of exploited and trafficked children in the United States, but few studies demonstrate how well we are responding to racial and economic inequalities that affect these populations. Federal, state, and community efforts resume to identify and provide services for victims of human trafficking since the passing of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) in 2000 and its multiple reauthorization. Previous research has documented how VTVPA has oftentimes failed to protect the most vulnerable. This study examined how Connecticut is addressing services and programs for children and youth affected by human trafficking with a focus on how practitioners continue to advocate for responsive interventions that take into account larger societal risk factors.

Methods: This qualitative study focused on the voices of community practitioners of human trafficking to determine Connecticut’s strengths and gaps in responding to human trafficking. The qualitative component was a part of the larger statewide needs assessment, developed by and implemented in partnership with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking in Colorado. Four focus groups were facilitated throughout the state with community stakeholders to identify service provisions within each region. The 26 participants included service providers, attorneys, law enforcement, and victim advocates. Through an open-coding team process, data were categorized into themes based on each question in the semi-structured focus group guide.

Results: Focus group participants described child trafficking as both a cause and a result of other societal problems such as poverty, homelessness, history of past victimization, unstable living conditions, and parents dealing with alcoholism or drug addiction. In each session, participants emphasized that there were no stereotypical cases of human trafficking in Connecticut, as each case looks different. However, the most common vulnerabilities discussed were unmonitored social media use; lack of educational and housing opportunities; immigration status; and inter-generational trafficking. There has been a successful expansion of services for child victims in the last decade as a result of increased collaboration between services, assessments and response times for individual cases, reintegration of support, cooperation with programs outside the scope of human trafficking, programs for immigrants, and trauma-informed work. Multi-disciplinary teams have facilitated advocacy efforts, education and training, funding opportunities, and policy changes. However, gaps that still need to be addressed include the need for additional research, resources, training, internet safety, and building trustworthy partnerships.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings demonstrate the strengths and gaps of addressing human trafficking in Connecticut. There has been a growing coordinated response to address children and youth affected by trafficking. Increased collaboration on the local and state level has not only improved services for victims, but also improved prevention. These results provide useful practice and policy recommendations for social workers to build statewide efforts to combat human trafficking while acknowledging and addressing issues of racial and economic inequality. With children of color identified as high-risk for being recruited into the human trafficking industry, these implications align with the grand challenges of social work to reduce racial and economic inequality.