Advisory Council on Child Trafficking
May 1, 2013
Good morning. Thank you, Allison, for that introduction. And thank you for your leadership and dedication, which have been so instrumental to the important work that brings us here today. It’s great to be here alongside so many committed leaders in the struggle against child trafficking.
This is one of those issues that many of us approach first and foremost as parents. When we hear about children being taken from their homes, abused, exploited, enslaved—we can’t help but imagine how we would feel if our child was taken from us and forced into a life of cruelty. And that feeling tells us everything we need to know about our responsibility for preventing these tragedies.
When he addressed the Clinton Global Initiative last September, the President made it clear that this Administration is committed to being a leader in this work. You heard earlier today from Todd about the evidence base that is guiding our efforts. And you’ll hear later from Valerie Jarrett about the broader strategies behind our work.
So today, I’d like to focus on some of the changes we’re making at the program level that will help us make new progress in keeping our children safe.
For decades, researchers and advocacy groups have been calling attention to this issue. But by the time the President took office, child trafficking was still a relatively new priority for the federal government. The legislation signed by President Clinton and reauthorized under President Bush had spawned efforts across different agencies that sought to strengthen the work already being done by outside groups.
But we lacked coordination: the Justice Department handled enforcement, Homeland Security handled international components, our Department handled victim services, and so on. The result of that was that we weren’t being as effective as we could be. We weren’t taking advantage of strategic partnerships, we weren’t identifying gaps or overlaps in our efforts, and we weren’t ensuring that our shared work was being driven by the best evidence.
So we knew that we had to change our approach. We started by ensuring that child trafficking was a priority issue across the federal government. We’ve stepped up our collaborative efforts, and will soon be hosting regular meetings to strengthen coordination between federal agencies.
We’ve also increased coordination with those working outside of the federal government to help drive attention to this crisis on the local level. Last month we received recommendations from the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a diverse panel of religious and non-profit leaders who shared ideas with us on how the federal government can more effectively partner with faith and community groups to combat human trafficking.
And that’s just the start. We’ve also provided in-person training to help empower nearly a thousand front-line responders, in addition to webinars, workshops, videos, newsletters, and more than 700,000 public awareness materials distributed by our Office of Refugee Resettlement.
When you add improvements in direct case management and to our national hotline, we’ve been able to identify far more victims than ever before. In fact, our hotline fielded more than 20,000 calls in fiscal year 2012—a 74 percent increase over 2010—and a sign that more victims of human trafficking and community members in this country are able to reach out for help.
And we’ve also recognized that when survivors do reach out for help, we need to do a better job connecting them with the services they need.
That’s why we have continued to support a multidisciplinary approach through grants that help ramp up the local capacity to respond to human trafficking in cities from New York to Honolulu. These programs enhance victim identification and service referrals through training and technical assistance, increase awareness about trafficking locally, and work with partners in the community to ensure a victim-centered response.
These investments have allowed us to make sure local service providers are not just guided by the latest evidence when it comes to responding to human trafficking, but that they also understand that reclaiming their dignity can be just as important to these victims as health care or housing.
The cruelest aspect of child trafficking is the way it can erode children’s sense of their own humanity. When young people are treated as less than human by the adults around them at an age when those cues matter so much, they often can’t help but take that message to heart. Through these public awareness efforts and trainings, we are helping ensure that survivors hear a very different message about their fundamental value as human beings.
What all these steps mean is that child victims are less likely to fall through the cracks. And to ensure that we will continue to close these gaps, we’re developing a Federal Strategic Action Plan to take these efforts to a new level, a process co-led by our department and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
As many of you know, the Plan is open for public comment until May 24th. We’ve put together an innovative online platform designed to enhance public engagement and maximize transparency. And I encourage all of you who would like to weigh in to visit the website of the Administration for Children and Families and make your voice heard. We are committed to making sure this is a collaborative strategy, and that will not happen unless we get your comments. And one area where we want to focus in particular is on improving health outcomes for survivors.
When we finalize the Plan later this year, we’re confident that it will mark an historic step forward in our approach to combating child trafficking. It will bolster coordination and collaboration between federal, state, local, and private partners. It will pave the way for us to dramatically expand access to services for victims by putting resources toward interventions that we know work. It will place a new emphasis on the short- and long-term health and safety of survivors. And it will promote heightened awareness of the trafficking crisis among the general public and leaders at every level of government.
Most importantly, it will provide a detailed list of concrete, actionable steps to make sure our efforts translate into real progress. And of course, all of these steps will be supported by the best evidence and research available. When it comes to a cause as urgent as ending the exploitation of our children, we need to commit our resources where they will make the biggest difference. And this Action Plan will ensure that we do just that.
We’ve already identified steps that we can move forward on right now. We’ll be releasing guidance to child welfare and homeless youth programs to help them enhance their ability to identify and serve victims of child trafficking.
We’ll be strengthening the safety net to meet the needs of survivors who have fallen through the cracks of our current protective services system.
We’ll be seeking out partnerships with the philanthropic community to foster innovation in services like sustainable housing and comprehensive care.
And we’ll continue to strengthen our capacity to identify and respond to victims of child trafficking who enter our country from abroad. Right now, all unaccompanied children who immigrate to the United States alone, and who are placed in our Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters, are screened for trafficking. Last year, 13,600 children were screened. And that number will be even greater this year. When we identify trafficking victims through screenings, we’re able to reach them right away with critical services to help them rebuild their lives. And the stronger our capacity is to identify victims, the closer we come to ensuring that every victim is treated, empowered, and put on a path back to a healthy life.
We live in an age when few issues are black and white, but there is no gray area when it comes to the incomprehensible evil of child trafficking.
As the President has said: caring for our children is our first job. It’s how we as a society will be judged. We cannot, and we will not, let these children down.
So in the months and years ahead, we will remain committed to building on the work we’ve accomplished so far. We’re going to build even closer partnerships inside and outside of the federal government. We’re going to reach even more local providers with support that is culturally sensitive and backed up by the best evidence. We’re going to do even more to promote dignity for all survivors. We’re going to end the nightmare of child trafficking for thousands of children, and give them the safety and care that every child deserves.
We have a long way to go, but we are moving forward with a renewed commitment and a common vision. Let’s keep fighting to bring child trafficking out of the shadows, and make a difference for all those children around the world who so desperately need our support.
Thank you. And now I’m pleased to turn things over to a terrific businesswoman, advocate, and philanthropist: Tory Burch.