Abstract: Systematically Reviewing Human Trafficking Screening Instruments: Implications for Practice and Research (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Systematically Reviewing Human Trafficking Screening Instruments: Implications for Practice and Research

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
L.B. Klein, PhD, Anna Julia Cooper Post-Doctoral Fellow, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Corey Shuck, BS, Research Assistant, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Cynthia Rizo, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Tonya Van Deinse, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Christopher J. Wretman, PhD, Senior Data Analyst/Research Associate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC
Rebecca Macy, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Background and Purpose: Human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation is a serious social challenge associated with a complex array of detrimental outcomes for individuals, families, and communities. Despite a lack of consensus on the scope of human trafficking, increased awareness has prompted agreement among policymakers, practitioners, researchers, and the public that the problem warrants urgent attention. Accordingly, criminal justice, education, healthcare, and social service professionals are increasingly asked to identify and connect people experiencing human trafficking to needed resources and supports (Albright et al., 2020; Dank et al., 2017). However, regardless of practice settings, there is limited evidence about and guidance for human trafficking screening and response. Therefore, with the aim of informing practitioners’ efforts to screen and respond to human trafficking, we investigated and summarized the peer-reviewed and grey literatures to identify existing human trafficking screening tools and response protocols.

Methods: Using rigorous methods, we systematically gathered and critically assessed documents written in English from any country that included instruments to screen for sex and/or labor trafficking among children, youth, or adults. We searched 15 peer-reviewed databases with keyword variations on “human trafficking” and “screen,” hand-searched relevant journals, and reference harvested and forward citation chained included articles. We also searched 23 websites generated from consultation with human trafficking prevention and response experts. Two members of the research team independently screened in Covidence and then abstracted all included articles using a standardized abstraction form in Qualtrics. Conflicts were resolved through consensus and consultation with the overall research team.

Results: We located 22 relevant documents with 19 screening tools. Results showed that tools were developed for a variety of settings (e.g., healthcare, juvenile justice, schools, social services) and included screening questions from several domains: safety, work, living environment, immigration and travel, and physical and mental health. Screening tools also provided recommendations for how to approach screening, including listening without judgment, using trauma-informed and strengths-based approaches, and ensuring cultural and linguistic appropriateness. Immediate response recommendations included connecting trafficked persons with appropriate local and national resources, engaging in safety planning, and following laws concerning law enforcement contacts and child abuse reports. Notably, we did not identify any empirical evaluations of screening tools for human trafficking.

Conclusions and Implications: Review results determined valuable guidance concerning trauma-informed administration of screening tools, as well as responses to human trafficking. Based on the summarized literature and review findings, we offer recommendations for developing and putting human trafficking screenings and response protocols into practice. We will also present areas and issues in which guidance is not fully developed (e.g., creating safety plans to ensure trafficked persons’ autonomy, safety, and well-being as part of identification and response protocols). Moreover, in light of the dearth of empirical evaluations of human trafficking screening and response, we present a detailed plan for developing rigorous evaluations of screening tools and response protocols across multiple settings in which practitioners may encounter human trafficking.