The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last week set aside nearly $7 million to address child sex trafficking as part of the 2015-2016 budget. The funds are expected to be used for sex trafficking prevention initiatives, programs and services including the creation of a specialized court for trafficked children in the foster care system. The court, which is in the process of being formulated, will help stabilize them, provide comprehensive services, such as crisis counseling, educational classes, and advocacy to improve their chances of recovery.
In general, a child that is trafficked will be referred to this specialized court through the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). They will have a hearing, their own attorney, a service provider who can help them receive help (mental health or other needs) and an educational advocate to make sure the child stays in school.
In addition, the board has asked for recommendations from the DCFS as well as Health Services, and Mental Health and Public Social Services on how best to serve children who are trafficked.
“The commercial sexual exploitation of children is not only an international problem, but one also prevalent in Los Angeles. A large percentage of children that have been trafficked have also been in the child welfare system. Currently, children who have been trafficked and arrested are eligible to attend another special court called the STAR Court, or Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience. Among the girls involved with the court, nearly 80 percent had prior contact with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
“This funding shows our commitment as a board to address the issue of child sex trafficking. We are determined to do whatever we can to help these children escape the life of trauma and exploitation that they have been forced into,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “A specialized court for children in the foster care system is only one component of what we hope will be a comprehensive approach to bringing these children the specialized services and attention that they need.”
“I am very pleased to stand with my colleague Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in opening up the process that will strengthen dependency specialty court programs,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis. “It’s important that we increase the number of attorneys who help children through the court process. We also plan to determine the appropriate solutions needed to support sexually exploited children.”
The supervisors believe a dedicated court with a hearing officer, county counsel, child’s attorney, investigators and service providers specially trained to recognize and understand the serious trauma, stages of change, and unique issues surrounding recovery and high probability of relapse would likely lead to better outcomes for these children.
In addition, Ridley-Thomas has asked for a report back on how the county can track the magnitude of sexually exploited children within the County of Los Angeles and an assessment of the outcomes of the services rendered to this population including the impact of the STAR Court Program.