Walk in the Shoes: Commercially Sexually Exploited Children Program

As the new King County Superior Court Communications Manager, I am looking for ways to share more about what our employees do in service to the community. King County Executive Dow Constantine’s ‘Walk in the Shoes’ does it so well, we decided to copy it!  Here is what I observed as we headed to the Casey Family Foundation to visit with Superior Court’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) Program and their ConnectUP staffing session

CSEC is one small part of the larger King County CSEC Task Force.  The team tackles tough cases with passion, determination, and relentless push for collaboration to tap into as many resources as possible. As a result, the program has earned national recognition and has a growing list of actively engaged partners from first responders to county non-profits to survivor-centered agencies.

The mission of the King County CSEC Task Force is to “ensure the safety and support of commercially sexually exploited children and to prevent further exploitation through

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training and delivering collaborative services.”

Presiding Judge Laura Inveen, Paul Sherfey and I spent Monday morning walking in the shoes of the CSEC Program team.

King County CSEC Program Manager Kelly Mangiaracina and CSEC Liaison Norene Roberts start by making one thing clear: there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Youth engaged in prostitution are not responsible for their exploitation.  Period.

Judge Barbara Mack, who trains national organizations about this issue, provides context: Of charged commercial sexual abuse of minor (CSAM) cases in King County, there is drastic disproportionality.

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While only 7% of King County population is African-American, 52% of the CSE girls are black; 80% of their buyers are white, 60% of the buyers have a college degree or higher, and are considered “well-off”, 13% work in tech, 13% in government/military, and 26% are split between manufacturing and construction. Locally, we have a disproportionally well-educated white male class purchasing King County’s youth of color.

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We quickly get down to the heart of today’s ConnectUP staffing. ConnectUP is a partnership between Superior Court, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, Casey Family Programs, YMCA, and YouthCare. Other organizations are invited on a case-by-case basis. This partnership was formed specifically to address CSEC cases involving state dependent foster youth. ConnectUP looks beyond the borders of government to leverage the best non-profits, the most generous foundations, the most innovative programs and the proven outcomes to get children the therapeutic and housing support they need.

At the table today are Whitney Whittemore and Ashley McCall of Nexus Youth and Family Services. Ashley McCall is a community advocate and responds to referrals from youth who want help, and the teachers, caseworkers, community members, and others trained to spot a child who is at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

Ashley provides an update on “A.B.”: 14 years old, referred by a teacher, mom has a history of using “sex as an economic strategy”, A.B. is currently in foster care and is “dating” a 24 year old man. When she distances herself from him, the “boyfriend” finds her and she runs away from her placement. Norene and Kelly discuss technology – coach her to disable tracking apps – and other financial options. Whitney lists job programs that legally employ girls as young as 14. Leslie Briner, one of the foremost national expert on CSEC protocols is on the phone and offers insight into the girl, her needs, and her family’s needs. Sara Miller of the Casey Family Foundation, also at the table, offers support for mom in the form of family supportive services. The session ends with a list of pressing needs and action steps. The case will be restaffed in two weeks.

The ConnectUP staffing is just a small example of the intensive partnership, collaboration, and commitment these CSEC cases require. Since April 2014, the Bridge Collaborative has received more than 775 referrals for youth who have either been commercially sexually exploited or who are at serious risk of exploitation. The Bridge Collaborative is a partnership among YouthCare, Friends of Youth, Nexus Youth and Families, Kent Youth and Families, and the Organization for Prostitution Survivors. These 5 organizations provide the much needed community advocates who specialize in working with CSE youth. Success is hard to define because the issues facing CSEC are so complex. Sometimes, success is knowing where the youth are for 30 consecutive days. Sometimes, success is fewer runs from foster care. Consistency and stability are key. Youth stay involved when they know someone cares.

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(left to right: Whitney Whittemore, Sara Miller, Judge Inveen, Paul Sherfey, Noreen Roberts, Kelly Mangiaracina, Ashley McCall, Judge Mack)

The CSEC program also provides a comprehensive training program for teachers, law enforcement, community members, and social workers and has already trained thousands of people. The curriculum includes 4 topic areas: educating men to be allies to end commercial sexual exploitation of children, recognizing that CSE includes boys too, how to use motivational interviewing with CSE youth, and how to connect to those youth to additional therapeutic services.

Kelly tells us that we need more foster families (they have three in the licensing process), respite foster families, and more shelter beds. She would absolutely love to have a CSEC respite program similar to FIRS. The single most important question they ask each child is pretty basic: Do you have a place to go tonight where you will not be harmed. That was simply startling.

Kelly tells us that we need more foster families (they have three in the licensing process), respite foster families, and more shelter beds. She would absolutely love to have a CSEC respite program similar to King County’s Family Intervention and Restorative Services program which provides a safe place to take a break for families and kids in crisis. The single most important question they ask each child is pretty basic: Do you have a place to go tonight where you will not be harmed. That was simply startling.

We left with a new appreciation for collaboration and the commitment of this small team: Kelly, Norene, Whitney, Ashley, Leslie, Sara, and Judge Mack.

If you’d like us to walk in your shoes, let me know Jamie.holter@kingcounty.gov.

 

 

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