H.E.A.T.Watch – Stop Human Exploitation and Trafficking

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Alameda County H.E.A.T. Watch Programs for Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth

SafetyNet

Prior to 2011, there was not a viable collaborative model in Alameda County to address the needs and safety concerns of commercially sexually exploited minors and those at-risk for such exploitation. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office took the lead in forming SafetyNet, a weekly multi-agency approach to dealing with the complex needs of this population.

Creating a Multi-Disciplinary Case Review

Starting in 2011, the group began with representatives from five agencies: the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, a forensic interview center, a rape crisis center, and a hired juvenile justice consultant.

The first step in forming the group was to identify our purpose, as well as the population we wanted to discuss. It was determined that we would talk about those who were at-risk or are already exploited youth. Referrals came from many agencies including probation, and law enforcement.

Throughout the course of the year, SafetyNet expanded its membership to include representatives from 11 additional agencies, including local hospitals, Social Services, various CBO’s and Probation, to name a few. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and a confidentiality agreement were created so that all parties felt comfortable and safe sharing information.

Each week the District Attorney’s Office and its partners convene the SafetyNet meeting. The District Attorney’s Office prepares a list of youths to be discussed. This list is provided prior to the meeting to the participants with a printout for each youth, containing background information, the status of any pending case, and any past or current safety concerns. Typically, 10-15 youths are discussed at the meeting. Each meeting is two hours long, and experience shows that any more than 15 youths does not allow for adequate discussion time. The SafetyNet meetings are led by the H.E.A.T Watch coordinator who is an employee of the District Attorney’s office.

Gathering and Analyzing CSEC Data to Inform Practice

In addition, SafetyNet maintains a database of all participating youths. SafetyNet gathers data regarding the demographics, system involvement, risk factors, victimization history, and other data points. The data is localized and tells a story about the needs and behaviors of exploited youth.

This is of critical importance because data collection best describes the nature and extent of the human trafficking and develops trends that would otherwise not be understood. As such, we have been able to analyze the data to inform SafetyNet members and the greater Bay Area of suggested policy and system changes for a stronger service response to sexually exploited minors.

Increasing Positive Outcomes for Youths

SafetyNet allows partners to address the specific safety concerns they may have about a youth referred to the group. It allows agencies to discuss any issues affecting the youth, addressing any policy considerations that may need to be addressed by an outside body.

The overarching goal is to provide a collaborative approach to increase the positive outcomes for the youth. We develop safety plans, make referrals to agencies, connect agencies who assist with Social Security or Medi-Cal, and discuss family dynamics that may affect the youth’s success after their cases are adjudicated.

We also develop aftercare plans for the youth who are removed from their homes and sent to placement. SafetyNet partners can make recommendations to the court, assist the partners in court, and help the family with support and continuity of care.

Young Women’s Saturday Program (YWSP)

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office advocated for legislation that statutorily authorized the Office to design and create a Diversion Program for exploited youth who enter the juvenile justice system. From that law and in conjunction with the Court and the Public Defender’s Office, the YWSP was born in 2011.

Building a Program for Girls

Girls are referred to the program primarily from Girls Court and include girls who are currently exploited or who are at-risk for such exploitation. The YWSP meets on Saturdays for twelve weeks and participants are exposed to guest speakers who introduce them to entrepreneurship, financial literacy and building healthy relationships, to name a few topics.

The goal is to provide the tools and necessary support for young women in making healthier choices. The girls give feedback to the facilitators as well as to the court when they appear on their cases. The program is responsive to feedback from the youth and as such, it is tailored to meet their interests and needs.

In its efforts to expand, outreach has been made to various community supporters, including health care practitioners who can provide healthy exams and women in non-traditional careers who can talk to them about career options “outside of the box”.

Developing an Empowerment Model that Works

The working group met for five months to establish guidelines for eligibility, assist in curriculum development and discuss funding strategies. YWSP was initially funded through a national grant and has since been funded by a private grant. Funding can be from a private source, from Probation or District Attorney funding or from other public monies that are available for the treatment and development of system involved youth.

Since the program's inception in late 2011, four sessions of the YWSP have been held. The most effective model is to engage an outside facilitator and a non-government advocacy program. In Alameda County, the District Attorney's Office has engaged JPG Consultants and the Bay Area Women Against Rape to facilitate the program. Both are trained to provide trauma informed care for this population. Depending on the resources in your jurisdiction, facilitators should be well-trained to work with the exploited population and have familiarity with the traditional challenges this group has, in terms of trauma, risk factors, histories of running away, and more.

For questions, training and additional requests for assistance, email info@heatwatch.org.

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This website is supported in part by Grant No.90ZV0092 awarded by the Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Regional Program, Anti-Trafficking In Persons Division, Office of Refugee Resettlement/ACF, Department of Health and Human Services. The contents on this website are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of HHS.