FRANKFORT, KY (WOWK) – The Bluegrass State is receiving a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said Wednesday the funding will help address key findings in the University of Louisville Human Trafficking Research Initiative “Project PIVOT: Prevention and Intervention for Victims of Trafficking.”
“Project PIVOT” is a two-year research project dedicated to preventing child trafficking. The principal investigator for the project, associate professor Jennifer Middleton, Ph.D., LCSW, said the research’s findings will help the state educate communities about child trafficking and help officials identify and respond to potential victims.
“We learned that child trafficking is primarily happening at the hands of family members – people in our community that we know, live next to or interact with. This has implications for how we educate our communities about child trafficking, as well as how we prepare child welfare workers and first responders to identify and respond to potential child victims,” Middleton said.
The researchers for “Project PIVOT” have made recommendations for the state to work toward preventing child trafficking. This includes having the Department for Community Based Services create an advisory council and launching a screening tool to help assess and investigate potential human trafficking and child labor situations and to identify high-risk children. The researchers also recommended hiring a full-time child protection specialist.
The governor says his administration will work to carry out these and other recommendations from the project.
“I have always made seeking justice for victims and fighting human trafficking part of my core mission,” Beshear said. “The resources made possible through this grant will allow my administration to address research findings that will help us to better fight this scourge of human trafficking and save lives. I would like to thank Dr. Middleton and her team for their hard work in this crucial area.”
To help establish the recommended advisory council, the grant funding will allow DCBS to engage with child-serving agencies across the Bluegrass State. Groups and organizations participating in the council will include the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet’s Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Education, Kentucky State Police and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
DCBS Commissioner Marta Miranda-Straub says the organization has a dedicated specialist to provide consultations on assessments and training, however, adding a full-time child trafficking protection specialist as recommended by the research project would help enhance capacity in several jurisdictions, including rural areas of the state.
The “Project PIVOT” study was led by researchers from the University of Louisville in partnership with the Kentucky Office of the Attorney General and DCBS. The Kentucky Children’s Justice Act Task Force funded the research.
Officials say the recommendations come from reviewing 698 reported cases of child trafficking over the five-year period between 2013 and 2018. To conduct the research, the team interviewed child welfare leaders throughout the country to learn more about the screening tools used to recognize potential victims of child trafficking. Researchers say 24 states have screening protocols implemented, and two screening tools used were found to be successful across multiple states.
Additional recommendations based on the research findings include tapping into existing child advocacy centers as anti-trafficking resources. They say there is an increased likely hood of confirming the case if a forensic interview is conducted at a child advocacy center.
Researchers also said it is important to hold family members accountable, as investigators, advocates and others interviewed shared concerns family members trafficking children are less likely to be charged or would receive a reduced charge.
Donna Pollard, community enrichment officer with Survivors’ Corner, says the research is an important part of protecting vulnerable youth as well as providing support to those who have survived child trafficking.
“As a survivor of sexual exploitation, I know firsthand how critical the research conducted under Project PIVOT is for protecting those vulnerable to human trafficking,” Pollard said. “Knowledge is power in terms of both prevention and empowerment of survivors so they can reframe their pain into purpose and break exploitive cycles in their families.”
The complete study is available to read online along with more about the UofL Human Trafficking Research Initiative and Dr. Middleton’s most recent journal article on child trafficking.
State officials ask anyone who believes they may have information regarding a trafficking situation to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888. Officials say anti-trafficking hotline advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. More information is available online at humantraffickinghotline.org/report-trafficking.