- National Center for Youth Law - https://youthlaw.org -

Counties Across California Explore Multi-Agency Responses to CSEC

YLN CSEC Karen Bass [1]

by Elizabeth Laferriere, MPP

Historically, commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) have been regarded as juvenile delinquents, labeled “child prostitutes” and had to be arrested to access even basic services. Advocates have long recognized this as incredibly harmful to youth; by treating exploited children as criminals rather than victims, the state re-traumatizes them and fails to appropriately address their needs. The National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and its many partners have taken steps to correct this by helping to pass Senate Bill (SB) 855, allowing children in California who have been commercially sexually exploited to be served by the child welfare system, a system designed to protect and serve abused and neglected children. Following the passage of SB 855, counties across California are reforming their systems to identify and treat CSEC as victims of abuse in need of trauma-informed, victim-centered, and multidisciplinary services.

Enacted in 2014, SB 855 provides both structure and incentives to encourage county agencies to collaborate in identifying and serving CSEC. SB 855 clarified that exploited children and children who are forced to trade sex to meet their basic needs may be served through the child welfare system as victims of child abuse and neglect. It also established the opt-in CSEC Program, designed by NCYL and the CSEC Action Team (a committee of the California Child Welfare Council staffed by NCYL). The CSEC Program requires participating counties to develop an interagency protocol for CSEC case management, planning, and delivery of services. The law designates specific agencies to collaborate in the protocol’s development and mandates a multidisciplinary teaming (MDT) approach. CSEC Program counties receive state funding to support their efforts and must re-apply each year.

The idea behind the CSEC Program was to increase the number of counties in California effectively serving CSEC. During the early stages of this Program, it has become clear that for most counties, putting this idea into practice requires new and significant levels of cross-agency coordination. Counties need guidance navigating this process, drafting protocols, and meeting SB 855’s requirements. NCYL has addressed these challenges by capitalizing on the diverse expertise of the state’s CSEC Action Team in order to create a number of resources. These resources not only explain the statutory requirements of the CSEC Program, but also include promising practices from the CSEC Action Team’s extensive research on approaches used in other jurisdictions. The guidance is not exclusive to the CSEC Program, and may be utilized by any county, including those outside of California, for the purpose of improving systems response to CSEC.

Many of these resources are now available for the first time in one comprehensive guide: Improving California’s Multi-System Response to CSEC: Resources for Counties [2]. This toolkit contains the following:

County steering committees have been meeting since the spring of 2015 and using these resources to fulfill CSEC Program deadlines. In June 2015, 35 counties that opted to participate in the 2015-2016 CSEC Program submitted plans to CDSS outlining the county’s current and future approach to CSEC. Using a methodology that emphasized prevalence and preparedness, CDSS evaluated the County Plans to determine the level of funding each county would receive. CDSS selected 22 for the higher level, or “Tier II,” funding. Tier II funding ranged from nearly $30,000 up to just under $2.8 million. The remaining 13 counties were awarded $25,000 in Tier I funding. Tier II counties submitted complete interagency protocols to CDSS by October 1. Many adapted the MOU Template resource for their final submission.

Three of these counties benefited from NCYL’s direct involvement in their protocol development: San Francisco, Santa Clara and the Tri-County region (Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz). All three received Tier II funding with awards ranging from $158,000 for the Tri-County area to $555,000 each for San Francisco and Santa Clara.

In Los Angeles, the recipient of the largest Tier II allocation of nearly $2.8 million, NCYL’s direct engagement predates SB 855. NCYL began drafting the county’s acclaimed Law Enforcement First Responder Protocol [3] in 2013, which continues to shape the area’s innovative response to CSEC. NCYL staff are currently authoring Los Angeles’s Interagency Juvenile Hall Protocol for CSEC, which will be used to identify and serve CSEC in the juvenile hall and ensure a smooth transition back to the community; and the Victim Witness Protocol, which will promote a victim-centered process for assessing whether and how children should testify in a case against their exploiter.

On October 21, Los Angeles launched the No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute Campaign in collaboration with the Human Rights Project for Girls and the California Endowment. At the event, county leadership urged agencies to stop the practice of arresting CSEC in Los Angeles. The following day Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that his department will stop arresting CSEC. [4] Such a commitment would not have been possible without the First Responder Protocol and the interagency coordination and trust that were fortified during its development.

NCYL will support ongoing SB 855 implementation through technical assistance, guidance on state policy, and the creation of multidisciplinary resources through the CSEC Action Team. Independently, NCYL is developing two new tools for counties that should be completed by the spring of 2016: 

Finally, on behalf of the CSEC Action Team, NCYL is helping coordinate the Tier II county convening at December’s Beyond the Bench Conference, a multidisciplinary statewide conference devoted to children, youth, and families in the California court system. The CSEC Action Team is also developing a survivor advisory board that will enable survivors to meaningfully inform statewide CSEC efforts.

Follow the progress of SB 855 implementation, access valuable resources, and learn more about the interagency protocols being tested in counties throughout the state on NCYL’s CSEC Program page [5]. For other news related to CSEC, follow us on twitter @NCYL_CSEC [6].