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CA Counties Take Lead in Addressing Sexual Exploitation of Children
State Program Shifts Emphasis from Criminalization

Riverside County multi-disciplinary team discusses its child sex trafficking protocols

On December 1, 2015, multidisciplinary teams from twenty-one California counties converged for the first Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Program Convening to share promising approaches and lessons learned. The convening took place one year after California’s adoption of SB 855 which has initiated a shift in the state away from criminalization and toward more appropriately treating these children as victims of exploitation.

Historically, the majority of CSEC have only accessed critical services through contact with the juvenile justice system. SB 855 clarified that exploited children could be served through the child welfare system as victims of child abuse and neglect. SB 855 also created the CSEC Program. The state-funded program incentivizes counties to develop interagency protocols for identifying and serving CSEC through a multidisciplinary team (MDT) approach. In 2015, twenty-two counties received enhanced funding under the CSEC Program for the substantial steps they took in the development of their interagency protocols. The state will soon issue guidance on program implementation in year two.

The December event attracted more than 200 individuals, with foundation leaders, state legislative staff, and anti-human trafficking advocates joining county representatives. It was organized by the California Child Welfare Council’s CSEC Action Team, a statewide body staffed by the National Center for Youth Law, in coordination with the Judicial Council and the California Department of Social Services. Attendees sat with their county teams consisting of representatives from child welfare, probation, public health, mental health, and presiding juvenile judges, all parties statutorily-required to participate in the CSEC Program MDTs. In addition, several county MDTs included representatives from education, community-based organizations, children’s attorney organizations, county counsel, law enforcement, and the district attorney’s office.

The event opened with a survivor panel focusing on system engagement. Panelists discussed missed opportunities in their own experiences for intervention and support and made recommendations for identifying and meaningfully engaging CSEC across child-serving systems. Attendees then learned about new federal requirements regarding identifying, documenting, and delivering appropriate services to CSEC. After a live safety planning simulation, county teams turned inward and reflected on how to best incorporate new statutory requirements and promising practices into their protocols. Unaffiliated facilitators guided counties through these activities aimed at both relationship building and policy improvement.

The second half of the day kicked off with a panel discussion on the investigation and filing of cases involving CSEC. Next, attendees separated from their teams for the unique opportunity to meet with individuals representing the same agency in different counties. These agency groups discussed mandates as well as unique challenges and opportunities for serving CSEC as part of a county MDT.

County teams reconvened once more for an engaging panel on how to foster placement environments that best support CSEC. The panel covered such issues as safety planning, debriefing youth who return from being absent from care, peer recruitment, and training foster parents. County teams closed the day together, identifying next steps for their county protocols and own agency responses to CSEC. Attendees also filled out postcards with their individual commitments to action. These motivational reminders will be delivered through the mail in mid-January.

CSEC Program and event resources continue to be accessible online through the CSEC Action Team mobile application. This portal contains a number of critical CSEC Program-related materials, including, but not limited to: CSEC Action Team reports, a timeline outlining California CSEC policy and programmatic developments, all CDSS guidance on the CSEC Program, and county CSEC contact lists.

Finally, the CSEC Action Team has already begun leveraging input and promising practices collected from county teams into improving CSEC Program administration and resources. For example, county-identified challenges and questions have helped inform the plan for CSEC Program year two, and will also be channeled into further guidance from the state. The CSEC Action Team will be publishing a report on year one of the CSEC Program later this year.

For questions about the convening and CSEC Action Team resources, please contact Elizabeth Laferriere at elaferriere@youthlaw.org.

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