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The Louisiana Children's Anti-Trafficking Initiative (LACAT) focuses on the need to increase awareness and strengthen the state's coordinated response to prevent human trafficking in Louisiana's child welfare population.
"Protecting children is the most important thing we do at DCFS," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "Sadly, child trafficking is becoming more prevalent, but this grant will be invaluable in our work to prevent trafficking and serve those children who have already been victims of abuse and neglect."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACFY) awarded the grants to just four states, including Louisiana. The five year grant will center on improving outcomes for child trafficking victims in Louisiana by analyzing data and implementing best practices for children in the child welfare system. It will also develop infrastructure for coordinating multiple agency efforts to deliver services, as well as expand collaborative efforts to serve victims of child trafficking.
"Sex trafficking of minors is one of the most horrific crimes that can be committed against a child," said Claudia Berry, Executive Director of HP Serve. "The trauma of being trafficked has a long term impact on all of its victims. HP Serve is pleased to have received funding from DHHS to expand what we are doing to help youth in the child welfare system who are at risk of or are involved in minor human trafficking in Louisiana."
Research demonstrates a strong connection between youth involved in child welfare systems and those who have been or become victims of child trafficking. According to a 2013 study by the Institution of Medicine and National Research Council, many times sexual abuse and involvement with child welfare precede trafficking of minors. A report conducted by the California Child Welfare Council found that approximately 50-80 percent of victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking, are or were formerly involved with child welfare.
In 2013, HP Served signed a Memorandum of Understanding with DCFS to be a first responder and advocate mentor for DCFS youth who are suspected of being trafficked. HP Serve identified 10 victims in just a few months.
"HP Serve has worked with this population for several years and are looking forward to the additional impact we can make on these youth as a result of additional funding," said Berry. "Partnering with DCFS and LouisianaChildren.org will allow us to increase awareness of the needs of these youth and build the state's capacity to empower them more effectively. We appreciate DHHS for their support."
The grant will allow DCFS and its partners increased resources to identify and combat child trafficking, including the implementation of special assessments to target children entering or returning to child welfare who may be child trafficking victims and to improve services provided.
"Child Advocacy Centers have been on the front-lines in serving child victims of sexual abuse in Louisiana for over 20 years, and our experience with using multi-disciplinary teams to do so should improve interventions specifically for trafficking victims," said John Wyble, Executive Director of LouisianaChildren.org. "LouisianaChildren.org, the parent organization for CACLA and LACASA, is ready to utilize its expertise and capacity to focus on better identification of and protection of youth at risk for sex trafficking. We are honored to be a partner in the battle to end child sex-trafficking in our state."
LACASA annually provides training to more than 500 judges, attorneys, DCFS staff, local CASA advocates and others in the child welfare system and will utilize those relationships to increase education about child sex-trafficking.
"We are grateful for this partnership with HP Serve and LouisianaChildren.org," said Sonnier. "Louisiana has numerous stakeholders that are working together to increase awareness, prevent and improve outcomes for children who have been trafficked. This grant will allow us a more comprehensive, strategic and collaborative approach to address the growing issue of child trafficking."