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December/January 2022Vol. 22, No. 11Spotlight on Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families

This issue of CBX highlights the need to be vigilant about keeping vulnerable children and youth involved with child welfare safe from human and sex trafficking. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about ensuring each child has the opportunity to be oblivious to trauma and grow up within a circle of support and love. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Learning About Indicators of Human Trafficking From Child Welfare Case Narratives

    Learning About Indicators of Human Trafficking From Child Welfare Case Narratives

    An article published in Children and Youth Services Review, "Learning From Child Welfare Case Narratives: A Directed Content Analysis of Indicators for Human Trafficking," analyzes child welfare case narratives for indicators believed to increase the risks for sex trafficking among youth who are involved with child welfare. The article provides an overview of common risk indicators for trafficking, what is known about the intersection between human trafficking and the child welfare system, and current responses to trafficking through screening and assessment tools. Youth within the child welfare system are considered to be at risk of sex trafficking, and the experiences youth had that involved them with the child welfare system (e.g., physical or emotional abuse and neglect) are additional risk factors. One way to address human trafficking is by increasing the understanding of the vulnerabilities that put youth at risk of being victims.

    The researchers examined substantiated child welfare case narratives that were pulled from a larger statewide study about human trafficking in Ohio. The narratives were coded to assess indicators using a directed content analysis that used a codebook based on over 100 human trafficking screening tools. Researchers wanted to know which human trafficking indicators in existing screening tools were captured in the child welfare narratives. This approach can help build and refine tools used in the child welfare system to identify and respond to human trafficking. 

    Although there was variance in the narratives, sexual abuse, sex exchange, and running away were the most common vulnerability factors. Most screening variables were not represented in the narratives. The findings also showed that many of the human trafficking indicators were identified by caseworkers in the case narratives, which demonstrates the importance of having a standardized trafficking screening tool. 

    These findings emphasize the need for standardized screening tools and a universal definition of human trafficking within the child welfare system, as it is challenging to determine the actual prevalence of human trafficking since the many social service, criminal justice, and public health agencies have different definitions (e.g., classifying a minor engaging in commercial sex as a criminal offender and not a trafficking victim) and accessible data. Being able to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking will help professionals understand who it affects most, where it is seen the most, and the context of the crimes and allow for more effective targeted prevention. 

    The results of this study also show the importance of language, particularly the use of "prostitute" when referring to youth who have been sex trafficked. This implies criminality by the youth and not that the youth had been exploited. Differences between definitions of sex trafficking in state and federal laws further exacerbate language issues and proper identification of sex trafficking victims.

    To learn more, read the study, "Learning From Child Welfare Case Narratives: A Directed Content Analysis of Indicators for Human Trafficking."  

  • Oblivious to Trauma

    Oblivious to Trauma

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg 

    I am planning a baby shower. All I can think about is that this is a surprise baby. My very best friend is having her first baby after many years of praying. All I can think about is the hope I have for this baby, and the love I have.

    My best friend and I met in first grade. I remember that she was tall and wore her hair in an afro-puff that sat perfectly in the center of her head. She remembers the gold string that adorned my box braids. I remember that she walked over to me and said my hair looked nice. We remember being permanently connected from that day forward. We were better than sisters, and we grew up like giddy little girls totally oblivious to trauma and to the dangers that may have surrounded us. We were loved and protected and disciplined when necessary. Together, we went from sharing Lemonheads in elementary school, to studying for middle school algebra, to swapping stories about high school crushes. When we managed to convince our parents to let us out of the house, we navigated the simple but complex neighborhood of Flatbush. We were never ever separated from our parents or our community; that was inconceivable. We were totally oblivious to trauma. We grew up and blossomed into accomplished young adults, like every child ought to have the opportunity to do. The more I think about it now, the more I wonder if we were outliers inner-city Black girls with an unencumbered path to success somehow. Because in hindsight, we knew the dangers were closer than we cared to admit on any given day, a block away, or even a breath away.

    I want the absolute very best for this baby. I know this baby will be loved and protected infinitely. The "system" will not know this baby because if my best friend ever needs help, she will find herself square in the center of a circle of arms locked together and stretched out to hold, to rock, to nurture, and to guide. My arms will be the first outstretched, and this baby will have unassailable rights to whatever is in my hand, whatever I have to give, and whatever I can acquire. I want to shower this baby with a lifetime of familial closeness and an unshakeable foundation, one so firm that imbalance is only imaginary. I want to clear a path for this baby that secures every possible need, and I will use the full brunt of my body to ward off danger and block obstacles. This is truly how I envision it unyielding love and unwavering support in the face of adversity.

    I want this baby to live a life so full of everything good a life free of impediments and oblivious to trauma.

    And this is what I want for every baby.

  • New Primer for Schools on Preventing, Responding to, and Helping Students Recover From Human Traffic

    New Primer for Schools on Preventing, Responding to, and Helping Students Recover From Human Traffic

    A primer from the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools within the U.S. Department of Education about what constitutes child sex trafficking and labor trafficking and which populations are most vulnerable is now available. Students involved with child welfare are particularly vulnerable to trafficking because of their potentially unstable living situations, distance from familiar environments, and the trauma they have experienced that led to their child welfare involvement in the first place. The primer suggests that some school personnel should be trained more extensively about sex and labor trafficking-due to their proximity and level of interactions with students-and serves as an introduction to how schools and social service providers can help survivors.

    Each of the populations mentioned in the primer (e.g., runaway youth, homeless youth, youth involved with child welfare) have different reasons for their increased vulnerability to trafficking, and while not all have the same level of risk, it is important to remember that many of these populations can overlap with one another. However, an absence of risk factors does not automatically mean that child is not trafficked, and the guide emphasizes the importance of school staff being aware of this and working to overcome any personal bias or stereotypes.

    In addition, the guide also covers the following:

    • Trafficking in urban, suburban, and rural areas
    • Impact on the student and learning environment
    • Child trafficking prevention at the school level
    • Community partnerships
    • School policies and protocols
    Prevention is explored through a tier system based on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' paradigm for trafficking prevention and multilevel approaches developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first tier focuses on primary prevention through the following:
    • Training staff on risk factors and indicators
    • Helping children develop skills to reduce their risk of victimization 
    • Developing policies for response, a safe climate, and family education
    The second tier focuses on identifying and responding to trafficking, and the third discusses trauma-informed treatment and recovery for those who have been trafficked.

  • New Factsheet for Professionals Addresses Child Sex Trafficking

    New Factsheet for Professionals Addresses Child Sex Trafficking

    A factsheet from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) focuses on the role that child welfare professionals play in prevention, intervention, and service provision with regard to child sex trafficking. Children and youth involved with child welfare have a higher risk of being victims of sex trafficking, and one in six of the children reported missing to NCMEC were likely victims of sex trafficking. It is important that child welfare professionals be properly equipped to handle working with these children in a trauma-informed way.

    This resource introduces federal requirements, indicators, and special considerations to make when dealing with sex trafficking. Indicators are important because children who have been sex trafficked do not always self-identify as such or disclose their abuse for many reasons, such as fear, shame, or loyalty. These indicators include behaviors, references, language to watch out for, and others. It is up to the professionals, not the child, to identify when a child is being victimized and step in to help them.  

    NCMEC offers assistance for child welfare professionals through its Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Services Team. The team provides knowledge and guidance in trauma-informed responses and helps state and local organizations develop and implement trauma-informed and victim-centered plans. This specialized support can help agencies and organizations better serve survivors and ensure their rights as victims of crime are honored.

    To learn more, read the factsheet, Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Child Welfare Professionals.

  • Identifying and Supporting Youth Involved in or at Risk of Commercial Child Sexual Exploitation

    Identifying and Supporting Youth Involved in or at Risk of Commercial Child Sexual Exploitation

    Casey Family Programs released an issue brief that explores risk factors, screening, prevention, placement consideration, and services for victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry, and children and youth who are involved in foster care have a higher risk of being trafficked than those not in care. Combatting it has traditionally been under the umbrella of law enforcement, although legislation from the past several years in particular, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 and the 2014 Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act has shifted some of the responsibility for identifying and service providing to the child welfare system.

    This issue brief serves as an introduction to the role that child welfare agencies play in identifying and supporting youth who may be victims of child sexual exploitation and what actions they can take. This can include screening tools to identify victims and prevention programs to raise awareness of behaviors and risk factors. It is important that screening tools and prevention programs be culturally competent and respectful. Agencies can use the screening tools and programs listed in the issue brief as they are or use them as a starting point for developing their own tools. The issue brief focuses on the increased risk within congregate care placements for CSEC and providing services and evidence-based interventions for CSEC survivors. 

    To learn more, read How Can Child Protection Agencies Identify and Support Youth Involved in or at Risk of Commercial Child Sexual Exploitation? 

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News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a brief listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training and Technical Assistance Update

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families.

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • Collaborative Interventions Between the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems to Better Serve D

    Collaborative Interventions Between the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Systems to Better Serve D

    A recent article in the National Institute of Justice Journal explores the distinctive needs of youth who experience both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems also known as dual-system youth. The article suggests there is a need for functional data linkages between the two systems to better serve these children and youth.

    Many youth who become involved with the juvenile justice system as a result of delinquent behavior also have experience with the child welfare system, according to a California State University, Los Angeles study cited in the article. Without collaboration between child welfare services and juvenile justice, it is difficult to know what interventions will be effective for these dual-system youth. Data linkages between the two systems could drive more collaborative case management; inform and refine best practices for working with youth; and identify trajectories, interventions, trends, and possible reforms. In addition, the article provides strategies these systems can implement to better serve the needs of this population, including the following:

    • Adopt integrated data systems between child welfare and juvenile justice agencies. 
    • Develop and disseminate best practices for dual-system youth that are measured in milestones.
    • Promote collaboration between juvenile justice, child welfare, and other service agencies, including judicial leadership.
    • Implement policies, starting at the federal level, focused on preventing maltreatment, preventing delinquency among young people who experience maltreatment, and supporting the integration of practices for dual-system youth. 
    The article concludes by recommending an indepth national assessment of data on youth who experience both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems to advance both research and practice strategies. It suggests that these youth merit timely identification and collaborative service delivery and that systems assess and evaluate their service delivery and its impact on outcomes. 

  • Issue Brief Proposes Policy Changes to Address Needs of Homeless and Foster Youth

    Issue Brief Proposes Policy Changes to Address Needs of Homeless and Foster Youth

    An issue brief from Ithaka S+R, Homeless and Foster Youth, Racial Inequity, and Policy Shifts for Systemic Change, highlights the racial disparities inherent in foster care and homelessness and the causes of homelessness and foster system involvement. It illustrates the challenges that youth experiencing foster care and homelessness face in earning a college degree and proposes policy changes for states to address and meet the needs of these youth.

    There is a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic youth experiencing homelessness or foster care. According to the issue brief, these disparities are largely the result of political, economic, and social inequities that negatively affect Black and Hispanic communities, such as segregation, mass incarceration, job discrimination, housing discrimination, and more. 

    The challenges of experiencing homelessness and foster care can impact education. According to the brief, youth in care from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled, while youth experiencing homelessness often show high rates of absenteeism and disciplinary action. In postsecondary education, youth experiencing foster care or homelessness disproportionately face barriers to education access, support, and success. On top of these challenges, youth in racial and ethnic minority groups can be doubly disadvantaged due to biases in the education system.

    To address these disparities, the brief proposes the following recommendations to state policymakers: 

    • Include academic and career counseling in state financial aid programs.
    • Expand foster youth postsecondary supports to include homeless youth.
    • Provide training for faculty, administrators, and state employees working with youth experiencing homelessness and foster care to combat implicit biases.
    • Evaluate the effectiveness of financial aid policies targeted toward youth experiencing foster care and homelessness.
    • Collect better data on youth experiencing foster care and homelessness, including postsecondary enrollments and outcomes.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Continuing to Move Forward With Lessons From a National Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare

    Continuing to Move Forward With Lessons From a National Convening on Trafficking and Child Welfare

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

    Children and youth involved with child welfare-particularly those who run away from foster homes and congregate care facilities-are at increased risk of sex trafficking (Latzman & Gibbs, 2020). In 2015, responding to growing concern over this issue, the White House and the Children's Bureau within the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services hosted the National Convening on Trafficking in Child Welfare. This event brought together trafficking survivors, program innovators, and leaders from child welfare, the courts, and law enforcement to advance collaborative solutions and plan for implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (Capacity Building Center for States, 2015). The convening pointed to critical action steps, highlighted below, that are as relevant today in responding to sex trafficking as they were in 2015. 

    Collaborate Through Cross-System Partnerships 

    Preventing, identifying, and responding to sex trafficking requires a collaborative approach that leverages diverse expertise and coordinates efforts among the following:
    • Child welfare agencies
    • System partners (e.g., law enforcement, juvenile justice systems, family courts, health-care and mental health service agencies, housing services, schools)
    • Local service providers (e.g., runaway and homeless shelters, local businesses, recreation services, community groups, victim advocates)
    • Youth and young adults who have lived experience in child welfare and sex trafficking
    • Caregivers

    Since 2015, many jurisdictions have formed or strengthened multidisciplinary task forces and work groups that facilitate information sharing, make recommendations for coordinated responses, align policies and practices, or share protocols for identifying and serving trafficking victims (Gibbs et al., 2019).

    To advance collaborative partnerships in your state or community, explore the following resources:

    Engage Survivors Meaningfully in Planning 

    As with all planning efforts, involving those most familiar with the problem leads to the most insightful solutions. Survivors of sex trafficking offer vital perspectives to the development of effective approaches for preventing and responding to sex trafficking for other youth involved with child welfare.

    To hear powerful firsthand accounts and insights from survivors of sex trafficking, listen to "Child Welfare Response to Child and Youth Sex Trafficking, Part 3" (CBC for States digital stories; free registration required). To learn more on approaches for meaningful engagement, read Strategies for Authentic Integration of Family and Youth Voice in Child Welfare (CBC for States brief).

    Use Data to Inform Planning

    States and counties can better understand the needs and characteristics of youth who are vulnerable to sex trafficking by examining administrative data on youth who run away and are reported to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System and on sex trafficking cases reported to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Jurisdictions can delve further by analyzing data collected across systems and by holding conversations to better understand the stories behind the numbers. 

    For more information on using data to inform responses, see the following resources:
    Ensure Trauma-Informed Responses

    Screening, assessment, and services should be trauma informed and promote individualized and culturally appropriate care. Policies and practices that reflect understanding of the experiences of youth who have been exposed to trafficking and the impact of trauma can help support survivors in taking steps toward healing. 

    Use the following resources to help build capacity for identifying sex trafficking victims and delivering trauma-informed services:
    Learn and Borrow From Others

    States and localities can learn from and build on what's already been done elsewhere. Find out more below:

    Capacity Building Center for States. (2015). Summary: National Convening on Child Welfare. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

    Gibbs, D. A., Feinberg, R. K., Dolan, M., Latzman, N. E., Misra, S., & Domanico, R. (2019). Report to Congress: The child welfare system response to sex trafficking of children. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

    Latzman, N. E., & Gibbs, D. (2020). Examining the link: Foster care runaway episodes and human trafficking (OPRE Report No. 2020-143). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation.

  • Nine Components of an Ethical, Authentic Youth Advocacy Program

    Nine Components of an Ethical, Authentic Youth Advocacy Program

    The Juvenile Law Center published a list of nine components required for a successful youth advocacy program. The components are based on the Juvenile Law Center's own youth advocacy program, which includes Juveniles for Justice, Youth Fostering Change, and the Youth Speakers Bureau. All components were developed through collaboration with youth advocates. 

    The following are the nine key components:
    • Support and retention strategies based on adolescent development, trauma-informed practice, and equitable program management. Guiding principles of this component include understanding adolescent development and trauma and focusing on race, equity, and inclusion.
    • Highly trained staff with social work or human services backgrounds. Guiding principles of this component include adapting evidence-based ethical codes, using a macro approach to solutions, and recognizing personal biases.
    • Widespread support for the program at all levels of the organization. Guiding principles of this component include starting with a mission and vision, providing appropriate staffing, and fully integrating the program.
    • A focus on youth empowerment. Guiding principles of this component include engaging in systemic and personal advocacy and meeting youth where they are.
    • Support for strategic sharing of personal experience. Guiding principles of this component include preparing youth to tell their story, establish autonomy over their stories, and share their stories to encourage change not trauma.
    • Youth development through skill building. Guiding principles of this component include creating individualized skill-building plans, identifying implicit bias in skill development, and understanding that skills look different for everyone.
    • A wholistic approach to issue selection and campaign development. Guiding principles of this component include understanding the approach of a young advocate, selecting an advocacy topic, and building connection around an issue. 
    • Collaboration and partnerships to support program growth. Guiding principles of this component include engaging in networking and partnering with key stakeholders.
    • Program growth through assessment and evaluation. Guiding principles of this component include understanding that youth feedback is evaluative and compiling partner feedback.
    For more information and to find detailed descriptions of the nine key components, read Building the Field of Ethical, Authentic, & Youth-Led Advocacy: Key Components of a Youth Advocacy Program.  


This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • New Forum Provides Expert Responses to Parenting Questions

    New Forum Provides Expert Responses to Parenting Questions

    The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Academy of Lifelong Learning recently launched an online parenting forum to support caregivers at every age and stage of a child's development with the goal of improving children's physical, psychological, and behavioral health and well-being. The forum, open and free to everyone, features answers and information provided by UMB experts from a variety of child- and family-serving fields, including social work, health care, and law, with extensive knowledge and experience in areas such as child development; early childhood; attachment; trauma; prevention; research; program and policy planning, development, and implementation; LGBTQ+ people and communities; and more.

    Visitors to the website can search the existing (and ever-growing) questions and answers section, which is organized by age (infant, toddler, elementary age, adolescent, and young adult) or submit their own question for expert review and response. An extensive collection of recommended resources is also available. 

    To learn more, visit the Lifelong Learning Parenting Forum on the UMB website. 

  • Preparing to Foster or Adopt a Child With Down Syndrome

    Preparing to Foster or Adopt a Child With Down Syndrome

    An AdoptUSKids article offers tips for individuals considering fostering or adopting a child with Down syndrome. The author urges prospective parents planning to care for a child with special needs to do the following:

    • Commit to learning about Down syndrome. This syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome at the time of conception and features physical and developmental growth delays, intellectual disability, and distinct facial characteristics. Children born with Down syndrome can exhibit a variety of health problems, ranging from mild to moderate, such as vision, hearing, gastrointestinal, and skin conditions and heart and thyroid disease.   
    • Get involved with the Down syndrome community. Most communities have Down syndrome parent-support groups that can help educate caregivers and connect them with other local resources.
    • Ask themselves, "How will caring for a child with Down syndrome affect my family?" As with fostering or adopting any child, there is likely to be an adjustment period but also an abundance of shared joy and love. While the same is true for a child with Down syndrome, there are other things to consider, such as medical and other needs, which may extend into adulthood.
    The article links to a brief story of an active and thriving Wyoming family that is raising four sons who were adopted as teenagers and live with Down syndrome. 
    A list of supplemental resources is also provided and includes links to the following:

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.