From 2016 through 2019, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Child Abuse Hotline received 187 reports of suspected minor sex trafficking. Unfortunately, this data still does not represent the whole picture.
What we do know is that human trafficking in Nebraska is a problem, despite the state’s best efforts to address the issue. What we also know is that we’re an organization that’s committed to everyone thriving, so we’re glad to play a part in creating positive outcomes for sex and labor trafficking survivors.
We and our partners have made strides to gain insight into this problem. In October 2020, Nebraska Children was partnered as the sub-recipient of a $1.5 million three-year grant, “Improving Outcomes for Child and Youth Victims of Human Trafficking” through the grantee, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The grant is from the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). The goal is to support the child and youth victims of sex and labor trafficking in Nebraska up to age 24 and employ evidence-based strategies from Nebraska Children’s Connected Youth Initiative’s (CYI) to support survivors including unconnected youth ages 14-25.
Nebraska was one of only four states to receive the grant this funding cycle, and the state was the recipient of the largest financial investment of new awardees. Other project goals include building and maintaining a comprehensive, collaborative response system that enhances well-being and outcomes for child and youth victims of sex and labor trafficking. Key partners include the Central Plains Center for Services, the Nebraska Alliance of Child Advocacy Centers, the Nebraska Indian Child Welfare Coalition, Native American Tribes, and Survivors Rising.
Sara Riffel, CYI Vice President, said about the grant, “Human trafficking of youth is a significant problem across Nebraska, specifically for unconnected young people that have experienced foster care, juvenile justice, and homelessness.”
Sara said that over 60% of the Nebraska sex trafficking survivors were either involved in the state or tribal welfare system or had experienced juvenile probation.
This is where CYI can help some of our state’s promising efforts.
“While Nebraska has made significant movement forward before 2021, young people that have experienced human trafficking in Nebraska continue to be underserved, especially in rural and tribal areas of Nebraska, because the state lacks a comprehensive, coordinated response to human trafficking,” she said.
Sara said that CYI’s strategies present a streamlined way to support survivors of human trafficking, who are unconnected or cut off from family, community, and supportive resources.
“Nebraska’s evidence-based CYI uses a collaborative approach to implement services designed to improve outcomes for the state’s unconnected youth, ages 14-25, who have experience in foster care, juvenile justice, homelessness,” said Sara.
Finally, to address the data gap, Nebraska Children and partners plan to implement the screening tool PAVE (Providing Avenues for Victim Empowerment) through HTI Labs. Statewide service providers will use the platform to identify and respond to sex and labor trafficking of older youth (16-24) in Nebraska.
But according to Sara, the best is yet to come.
“And now, because of this grant, CYI will serve as the infrastructure for this much-needed coordinated response to human trafficking,” she said.
To coordinate these efforts, Nebraska Children hired Lauren Ward as the Assistant Vice President of Trafficking and Violence Prevention. Lauren and the team will oversee community-based efforts and strategies throughout the state. These initiatives will continue to support children, youth, and families who have experienced human trafficking, sexual or domestic violence.
In addition, survivors of human trafficking, sexual or domestic violence are eligible for CYI’s supports and services. These strategies enhance positive outcomes for young people in areas including education, career, basic needs, transportation, mental, physical, and dental health, housing, permanency, and financial stability.
Survivors of sex and labor trafficking may utilize the following CYI supports and services:
Central Navigation – This “one-stop-shop” approach ensures that CYI participants can access all the resources they need. When young people are in crises, they can describe their issues to a Central Navigator, who can put the person seeking help in contact with all the supports they need. Thanks to this process, those who need help can find it in one place, communities can ensure their efforts aren’t redundant, and youth can have repeated check-ins to see how they are progressing.
- Coaching – Coaches through our partner organizations can help young people to plan for their lifelong goals. The coaches also ensure that the youth develop essential skills, resources, and support that enhance the Youth Thrive promotive factors to create a smooth transition into adulthood.
- Opportunity Passport™ – This program builds financial literacy and provides participants with financial matches for essential items and expenses. Participating youth save money for anything from education, a car, a home, housing, or medical expenses, and any money that you saved will be matched 2:1.
- Youth Support Services and Needs-Based Funds – Cash assistance can help young people who encounter problems before they spiral into crises, such as paying utility bills, car repairs, or unanticipated medical bills.
- Youth Leadership and Voice – Opportunities for youth leadership and advocacy through empowering processes. This also includes community youth councils to provide input about the CYI system and what services are needed most.
As an organization that’s committed to all children, youth, and families thriving, we’re proud to play a role as part of this larger project as we move towards a better Nebraska.