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.