The Sexually Exploited Minors Network (SEM Network) has been working together since 2005 to develop advocacy, alternatives, and programs for children and youth who have been victims of sexual exploitation – especially commercial exploitation. With the facilitation of the Interagency Children′s Policy Council (ICPC), a highly committed and expert team has been assembled in Alameda County to address the needs of SEM children and youth in our community and surrounding communities that are impacted by the pernicious business of human trafficking and commercial exploitation of children for financial gain.
The SEM Network employs a variety of best practice and innovative strategies to address this issue. This Business Plan, however, addresses one of those strategies – creating, developing, and sustaining a residential Safe House(s) where SEM girls can choose to heal, away from the influences of the streets and away from the threats and influence of their pimps. The Safe House is modeled after similar homes in the Los Angeles area and British Columbia – with much the same philosophy, practices, structure, and programming.
Operating a Safe House in California places our work at the intersection of a number of systems, funding streams, and regulatory bodies – thereby providing resources for the operation of the program within constraints imposed by years of legislation and bureaucratic policy development that do not necessarily align with best practices for SEM youth. This Business Plan lays out the overarching philosophy and best practices for a SEM Safe House, and it outlines the funding options available for core program elements such as residential care, education, therapy, health care, and youth development services. We have considered the effect of various funding streams and bureaucracies on effective operation of the Safe House, and we make recommendations that have been reviewed by key informants with thorough knowledge of the needs of SEMs
After considerable deliberation, the SEM Network Steering Committee has determined that the following course of action is both feasible and appropriate to our goals and philosophy:
Build the Safe House strategy in close integration with the Safe Place Alternative (SPA) which will identify appropriate youth and provide the initial advocacy, support and case management to ensure a successful transition to the Safe House.
- A rural, medium-term, 6-12-bed home for girls who require a higher level of treatment due to the traumas they have as well as a safe secure environment to protect them from their criminal exploiters
- Girls will reside at this program for up to 12 months, after which they will transition home, to therapeutic foster care, to a group home, to independent living or other appropriate options. Integrate linkages to other, complementary treatment models as they develop.
Programming at the rural Safe Houses will incorporate the following strategies
- Treatment services will include: individual psychological assessment; individual and group therapy (and family therapy when feasible); milieu treatment; and other services as needed. The rural program will have other somatic based therapeutic activities such as exposure to nature, gardening and interactions with animals. Educational services will be provided either by Oakland Unified School District′s Alternative Education program or by Alameda County Office of Education. These partners will provide a certificated administrator/teacher, an instruction aide, and other resources as feasible within their revenue limit. OUSD program would be a Community Day School. ACOE program would be an Independent Study Program.
- Residential care staffing will meet the requirements for a Rate Classification Level of 12 and will include two staff on shift around the clock, with a minimum staff: child ratio of 1:6 at any given time. The residential care staff will be engaged in the educational program, augmenting the staffing provided by the district, and they will also be engaged, as appropriate in therapeutic groups, and, of course, the milieu therapy efforts.
- Current best practice has shown that sexually exploited girls require a period of recovery to normalize social behaviors with males. Therefore, program staff will be female-- women and will have the experience, cultural competence, and training to work with the population being served.
Safe Place Alternative (SPA) SEM/CSEC Safe House
Currently located @ Family Justice Center-- services to be expanded. City of Oakland based. Located in a rural setting, away from either Oakland, San Francisco. (Note: immediate threat to safety a factor in being placed here.)
Current funding sources:
- City of Oakland: Measure Y
- Alameda County: in-like kind
Possible expansion dollars:
- Measure Y
- EPSDT ( on-site clinical case management services)
- VOC (on-site services)
- Private Funding Current Funding Source:
- City of Oakland / AC Match
Possible Funding Sources:
- Victims of Crime
- Local, regional District Attorney′s offices
- Federal Anti-Human Trafficking Grants
- Private Funding
During the past two years, the Alameda County Sexually Exploited Minors Network (SEM Network), convened and facilitated by the Interagency Children′s Policy Council, has worked diligently to raise the profile of SEM youth in the county and the region and to advocate for policy changes and services that are crucial to addressing the needs of these vulnerable children and youth. The SEM issue has been embraced by the Alameda County Family Justice Center, Oakland′s Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004 (VPPSA)/Measure Y, the Board of Supervisors, police jurisdictions, the Healthy Care Services Agency, the Social Service Agency, the Probation Department, and the District Attorney′s Office. Much has been done to date to address this issue.
In 2006, the SEM Network (see attached membership roster ) established the Sexually Abused and Commercially Exploited Youth/Safe Place Alternative (SACEY/SPA) program. In this effort, SEM Network agencies are engaging and assisting SEM youth via outreach ; emergency shelter; assessment of needs and risk level; education regarding sexual exploitation; advocacy on their behalf and for the prosecution of their exploiters; and linkages to needed services. The Safe Place Alternative (SPA) currently located in the AC Family Justice Center in Oakland, provides comprehensive services for victims of domestic violence and their families. In addition, SPA – linked service are provided at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center and at Oakland Police Department′s Youth and Family Services division. The SPA provides assessment, advocacy, intensive case management, and educational/enrichment activities to support stabilization and solidify pro-social, healthy behaviors (i.e. being a kid again!). Currently, the SPA is operational three days per week to assist Seems to transition back into their peer groups, schools, and communities. SPA enrichment activities include emphasis on healthy relationships, improving self-care, identifying educational opportunities and career options development of hobbies, interests and leadership capabilities.
Seems currently have very few housing options if they want to get away from their pimps and to turn their lives around. Some are still held in the Juvenile Justice Center where they can be assessed, counseled, and protected from reprisals. Some use the County Social Service Agency′s Assessment Center as a safe place to "crash" and get their bearings. Due to its transitional role, this 23-hour-per-day facility cannot provide a living situation for any of the children and youth who pass through. The Dream Catcher Youth Shelter in downtown Oakland–a program of Alameda Family Services and the only emergency shelter for youth ages 13-18 in Alameda County–currently reserves one bed for SEM youth who are referred by the SACEY/SPA program. Finally, of the few group homes in the community that are willing to accept and work with Seems, it is still a struggle to maintain placement and meet their needs. However, like the DreamCatcher shelter, these group homes are typically in the community and their location is known to other SEMs and, therefore, to the pimps. Because threats, intimidation, and relapse are factors in the recovery process, the need for a safe house has been identified as a major issue.
To effectively serve SEMs, there must be a safe house option that is geographically remote from the community of their exploitation, to insulate them from threats inherent in their situation. Safe houses must be a therapeutic residential option where well-trained staff can provide SEMs the security and specialized mix of services–such as counseling, case management, education, and other supports–they need to make a successful transition from the streets.
Safe House Planning and Development Timeline: Where we are now
January 2008 to Present
- Memorandum of Understanding secured between property owner and Alameda County.
- County "match" for City of Oakland Challenge Grant of 225k identified.
- Funding commitments pledged by Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, Probation and Social Services Departments.
- Safe House Business Plan completed and presented to AC leadership.
- Draft design plans provided by pro-bono architect "floated".
- County feasibility plan launched.
- Private foundation and philanthropic resources being identified.
- Begin construction and open 2009-2011.