Gov. Beshear: State Tackling Findings of UofL Child Trafficking Study with $1 Million Federal Grant
Project PIVOT identifies opportunities for education, training, policy development
FRANKFORT, KY (STL.News) Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday said a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will help the state address key findings of the University of Louisville (UofL) Human Trafficking Research Initiative’s Project PIVOT: Prevention and Intervention for Victims of Trafficking, a two-year research project.
When Gov. Beshear served as Attorney General, his office collaborated with Project PIVOT on the research. Now that he is Governor, his administration is working to carry out the project’s recommendations, which include the Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) creating an advisory council; launching a human trafficking and child labor screening tool to identify high-risk children; and hiring a full-time child protection specialist.
“I have always made seeking justice for victims and fighting human trafficking part of my core mission,” the Governor said. “The resources made possible through this grant will allow my administration to address research findings that will help us to better fight this scourge of human trafficking and save lives. I would like to thank Dr. Middleton and her team for their hard work in this crucial area.”
Jennifer Middleton, Ph.D., LCSW, principal investigator for Project PIVOT and associate professor, UofL Kent School of Social Work, presented research findings Wednesday and said, “We learned that child trafficking is primarily happening at the hands of family members – people in our community that we know, live next to or interact with. This has implications for how we educate our communities about child trafficking, as well as how we prepare child welfare workers and first responders to identify and respond to potential child victims.”
Donna Pollard, community enrichment officer with Survivors’ Corner, spoke about the importance of conducting this research, protecting vulnerable youth and advocating for survivors.
“As a survivor of sexual exploitation, I know firsthand how critical the research conducted under Project PIVOT is for protecting those vulnerable to human trafficking,” Pollard said. “Knowledge is power in terms of both prevention and empowerment of survivors so they can reframe their pain into purpose and break exploitive cycles in their families.”
State Working to Combat Human Trafficking
With grant funding, DCBS will engage with child-serving agencies in Kentucky to develop and implement an advisory council on human trafficking and child labor prevention and awareness. The council will include the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, Kentucky State Police and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The advisory council will work to identify a human trafficking and child labor screening tool, funded by this grant, which will be used to reveal victimization for both sex and labor trafficking of children and youth.
“This screening tool will be the first of its kind, and it will help social workers and other child-serving professionals provide appropriate in-depth assessment and improve case investigations,” said DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub, an expert in trauma intervention and violence prevention. “We are very proud that Kentucky will be a national leader. We will share with our partners, including the Department of Juvenile Justice, and other states once it’s developed.”
Miranda-Straub said that DCBS also has a dedicated specialist whose responsibilities include consultations on assessments and trainings, but that the agency is considering the creation of a full-time child trafficking protection specialist position that could provide training and case consultation to staff throughout the state.
“This approach would enhance capacity of many jurisdictions, including rural areas, to better respond to child trafficking cases and could serve as a model for other states,” she said.
The department is also implementing evidence-based, trauma-informed training for child welfare staff, leadership, foster parents and providers across the state.
Miranda-Straub said her department is grateful for the work of UofL’s Human Trafficking Research Initiative as well as Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Bakhita Empowerment Initiative, which provides assistance and case management to survivors of human trafficking and educates the public.
The latest Project PIVOT recommendations build on a previous review of 698 reported cases of child trafficking over a 5-year period, between 2013 and 2018. The research team interviewed child welfare leaders across the United States to learn more about screening tools used to recognize potential child trafficking victims. The interviews revealed that 24 states have screening protocols, and only two screening tools – the Human Trafficking Screening Tool (HTST) and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation Identification Tool (CSE-IT) – were found to be validated and successfully utilized across multiple states.
In addition, the research team reviewed the Project PIVOT findings with key leaders, advocates and investigators on the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, who generated recommendations for DCBS. The study also pointed to the following policy recommendations:
- Tap into existing child advocacy centers as anti-trafficking resources: Findings indicate an increased likelihood of child trafficking cases being confirmed if a forensic interview is conducted at a child advocacy center. The study’s authors recommend regional consultants be partnered with and perhaps housed within regional child advocacy centers.
- Hold family members accountable: This study revealed that significantly more cases with non-relative perpetrators (39.6%) had a case outcome of substantiation or founding when compared to cases with family member perpetrators (21.1%). Investigators, advocates and others reported concerns about family members as traffickers being less likely to be charged or receiving a reduced charge or finding, such as child sexual abuse.
“Identification of the commercial aspect of the sexual exploitation can allow law enforcement to broaden the scope of the investigation to potentially include buyers of commercial sex,” said Dr. Middleton, who also serves as director of the UofL Human Trafficking Research Initiative. “Until more buyers of commercial sex are arrested and charged with criminal offenses, the demand for commercial sex with children will continue unabated.”