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March 2016Vol. 17, No. 1Youth Refugee Resettlement Programs for Trafficking Victims

A recent study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops examines how U.S. refugee resettlement programs are serving the unique needs of child trafficking victims, and concludes that—with specific accommodations—such programs can serve as a model for the care and integration of child victims of human-trafficking and sexual exploitation. The study is premised on the many shared characteristics of refugees and foreign-born victims of human trafficking and looks at the U.S. Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM) programs over the past 35 years to determine which aspects of the URM model best serve the specialized needs of trafficking victims.

The authors note that since 1980, the URM program has helped unaccompanied children transition to life in the Unites States, embracing the principles of safety, permanency, well-being, integration, and cultural competency. They explain further that recent legal and legislative developments have resulted in an increasing number of child victims of human trafficking requiring specialized care in the United States, and that insufficient research exists on the provision of services and outcomes of this special-needs population in community-based settings.

The authors point out that URM data provide substantial information for assessing the outcomes and policies with regard to victims of child trafficking, and they examine three data sets:

  • Individual services and the outcomes of child trafficking victims placed in the URM program
  • Policies and practices of the URM programs under the purview of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) network
  • Foster parent and program staff experiences of those who have taken child trafficking victims into their homes/URM programs

The study looks at how URM programs have adapted their services over time to respond to the often intense needs of this unique population, including the identification of foster families who are well-equipped and attuned to the special needs of trafficking victims; reinforced supervisor support with trafficking cases; and clear-cut expectations for trafficked youth upon initial placement in a foster home.

The authors were surprised by the strikingly low incidence of law enforcement, and advocate for guidance that will help programs enlist law enforcement agencies in the investigation of trafficking cases. They also contend that potential care providers should be offered advanced training to best serve this population.

Child Victims of Human Trafficking: Outcomes and Service Adaptation Within the U.S. Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Programs, by Hilary Chester, Ph.D.; Natalie Lummert, M.S.W.; and Anne Mullooly, M.S.S.W. is available on the USCCB website at (1 MB).