Board of Supervisors Approves Funding to Help Trafficked Children

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has set aside nearly $7 million to address child sex trafficking as part of the 2015-2016 budget. The funds are expected to be used for sex trafficking prevention initiatives, programs and services including the creation of a specialized court for trafficked children in the foster care system to help stabilize them, provide comprehensive services, such as crisis counseling, educational classes, and advocacy to improve their chances of recovery.

In addition, the Board has asked for recommendations from the Departments of Children and Family Services, Health Services, Mental Health and Public Social Services on how best to serve children who are trafficked.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not only an international problem, but one also prevalent in Los Angeles. A large percentage of children that have been trafficked have also been in the child welfare system. Currently, children who have been trafficked and arrested are eligible to attend a special court called the STAR Court, or Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience. Among the girls involved with the court, nearly 80 percent had prior contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

“This funding shows our commitment as a board to address the issue of child sex trafficking. We are determined to do whatever we can to help these children escape the life of trauma and exploitation that they have been forced into,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “A specialized court for children in the foster care system is only one component of what we hope will be a comprehensive approach to bringing these children the specialized services and attention that they need.”

“I am very pleased to stand with my colleague Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in opening up the process that will strengthen dependency specialty court programs,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.  “It’s important that we increase the number of attorneys who help children through the court process. We also plan to determine the appropriate solutions needed to support sexually exploited children.”

A dedicated court with a hearing officer, county counsel, child’s attorney, investigators and service providers  specially trained to recognize and understand the serious trauma, stages of change, and unique issues surrounding recovery and high probability of relapse would likely lead to better outcomes for these children.

In addition, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has asked for a report back on how the county can track the magnitude of sexually exploited children within the County of Los Angeles and an assessment of the outcomes of the services rendered to this population including the impact of the STAR Court Program.

Enforcing Rules on Motels to Prevent Human Trafficking

(Left to Right) Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Saving Innocence Executive Director Kim Biddle after testimony on March 3, 2015.

 

Motels that receive Los Angeles County vouchers to house homeless people must comply with new rules to prevent the trafficking of women and children on their premises.

Prompted by reports of sex trafficking and other crimes occurring at many motels around the county, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the motion, co-authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, which will require motel owners to sign a contract stating that they will not participate in or allow any form of sex trafficking to take place in their facilities. In addition, they must hang a poster in a visible place with hotline information to report a possible human trafficking incident and for victims to receive help; allow law enforcement to check guest registries at-will and take a training session on sex trafficking provided by the County.

“There are few more disturbing issues than the buying and selling of children for sex. Unfortunately, much of this activity occurs in motels and hotels. If motels are going to receive a county voucher, they must fulfill their end of the contract,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “We simply cannot and will not turn a blind eye.”

Added Supervisor Knabe, “I encourage those hotel operators that receive County housing vouchers to join us in the fight against the trafficking of young girls. I look forward to continued discussions as to how we can reach this goal.”

Last year, Los Angeles County spent nearly $4 million in vouchers for 52 motels. District Attorney Jackie Lacey testified at the hearing and noted that her office has aggressively pursued cases against traffickers and has sought to help victims through a diversion program.

“This motion will assist law enforcement officials looking for kids who are being enslaved by sex traffickers,” she said. “Signs posted in lobbies may also encourage enslaved minors or good Samaritans and bystanders to call the hotline to seek help and rescue these kids.”

Compton Mayor Aja Brown also testified adding, “Gangs look at children as merchandise. It is imperative that we take a stand collectively… against modern day slavery.”

Kim Biddle, executive director of Saving Innocence, a non-profit that offers services to victims of trafficking, also testified. She said that 100 percent of the children in her care had been abused and held against their will at hotels or motels across the county.

“These hotels are truly being used to harbor trafficking victims… for intensive commercial exploitation and rape,” she said. “It should be a high priority to take a look at the accountability of these motels and hotels, especially if the county is in contract with them or awarding them any kind of funding and support.”

The Department of Public Social Services, which issues the vouchers, will compile a report and bring it back to the Board for review next month. It should include other housing options and ways of enforcing the contract in cooperation with law enforcement and victim service providers.

Helping Exploited Children Heal

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A seminar participant reacts to information on trafficked children.

As a licensed social worker, Candice Kimbell has heard many heartbreaking stories from children struggling with difficult issues. But when one child told her that she had been “recruited” at school, Kimbell was stumped. She discovered that the child had been tricked into prostitution by a friend, known as a “recruiter,” and then sexually exploited and sold by a pimp.

“I didn’t know what she meant,” said Kimbell, who is also a training coordinator for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “I knew I needed to find out more.”

And so, Kimbell joined dozens of mental health professionals at a recent two-day training seminar on the commercial sexual exploitation of children hosted by the Department of Mental Health and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Campus in Willowbrook. It is estimated that as many as 300,000 children are at risk of being exploited sexually and sold into prostitution in the United States. The average age of entry into the sex trade for these children is 12.

In 2013, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Don Knabe authored a motion to establish a county-wide approach to combat the trafficking of children in Los Angeles.  Already, thousands of Los Angeles County employees have been trained and educated on the dangers of sex trafficking.

Social workers and mental health professionals from the Department of Mental Health began helping children in the county’s probation camps when it became apparent that there was a significant number of girls, ages 15-18, who had been  incarcerated for prostitution related activities.  Many of these girls were victims of abuse and neglect and they suffered from depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

This year, the Department of Mental Health plans to train and educate more than 600 professionals so they are able to detect signs of sexual exploitation or trafficking among children. By knowing the signs, some might even be able to prevent  children who are at-risk of falling prey to predators.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has led efforts in the fight against child sex trafficking county-wide, said he hoped the two-day event would bring about more awareness and change.

“When we see young people being exploited and we do nothing, we diminish ourselves,” he said. “It is my hope you all leave here today with the inspiration and knowledge to transform the lives of these victims.”

Advising the professionals in the audience, Marvin Southard, director of the Department of Mental Health added, “Keep your mind active but your heart soft as you deal with these children who have faced horrible things.”

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Nola Brantley, CEO of Nola Brantley SPEAKS, an advocacy organization for trafficked youth.

The two day seminar was led by Nola Brantley, a survivor and founder of Nola Brantley SPEAKS, an advocacy organization for trafficked children. Brantley, who has spoken nationally on the topic and has helped to train thousands of people in Los Angeles County, noted the importance of treating these children as victims, not as perpetrators of a crime.

“These children are not prostitutes,” she told the audience. “They are sexually exploited children. You can be a part of the restoration of a belief in humanity. We may not see ourselves as healers and we may not see our work as important. But it is. I know that what has been broken can be restored.”

Board Moves forward on Child Protection Recommendations

78741043Moving forward with key recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved pairing public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse for children under the age of two.

This move, based on a motion co-sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, will help medical and child welfare professionals evaluate if a child is in danger of abuse or needs immediate medical attention. The Board also moved forward with the recommendation to make sure these children get referred to special medical clinics (called “hubs”) to get immediate health screenings if the public health nurse deems it medically necessary.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Hub will be the first site to begin this partnership between social workers and public health nurses as part of the first phase of recommendations. The MLK Medical Hub will serve residents in Compton and the Vermont area of the DCFS regional offices. These enhancements will also make it possible to protect children and minimize disruption to families by having public health nurses evaluate children in their own homes.

In order to enhance all six medical hubs at county hospitals, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services will allocate $2-million to fund 14 new positions for doctors, nurses and one fellowship position. Annually, the Department of Children and Family Services estimates nearly 17,000 infants under the age of two in Los Angeles are at the greatest risk of being harmed.

“The time is now to move on the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “All children in L.A. County deserve a fighting chance. They should be able to grow up healthy, free from abuse and in nurturing environments.”

Added Supervisor Kuehl, “I am very happy there are steps we have taken today reflecting the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission for Child Protection was formed last year, based on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, to improve the safety and well-being of children in the child welfare system. The commission, comprised of experts in child welfare, social work and other areas, has issued two reports with recommendations for improving the system in Los Angeles County.