Its Unanimous…

Dear WestCoast Community,

The California Child Welfare Council made a landmark decision yesterday. The Council unanimously voted to take the immediate action needed to improve protection and services for commercially sexually exploited youth.

Why is this decision important?

  • Currently, youth victims of sexual exploitation are arrested and funneled through the juvenile justice system.
  • Our systems treat them as criminals rather than victims of child abuse, despite the fact that traffickers kidnap and coerce victims into being sold on the streets for sex.
  • The majority of exploited youth have a history of child welfare involvement. At WestCoast, 80 % of youth in our C-Change program have been in foster care.
  • The child welfare system, under its mandate of protecting and serving abused and neglected children, must play a central role in supporting sexually exploited children in order for victims to access the protection and services they need to safely recover from victimization.

WestCoast Children’s Clinic Executive Director, Stacey Katz, commented on the significance of changing the message we’ve been sending to children who are exploited.

I try to think of what our message says to a kid who’s being bought and sold every night. It seems to me that no matter what we believe, our current practice says, “You’ve done something wrong and that’s why we’re locking you up and charging you with a crime.” This conveys the same thing that traffickers do—that no one cares what happens to you. These recommendations change that message to one that takes collective responsibility for protecting youth: It says, “You haven’t done anything wrong. This is something that we let happen to you but it’s not who you are. By adopting these recommendations we are committing to do everything we can to protect you and make your life better.”

What do these recommendations do? 

The vote launches an action plan that brings together leaders in child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, education and the courts. This workgroup’s immediate priorities include:

  • Improving early identification of sexually exploited youth in all public systems.
  • Developing specialized services and foster care placements that can meet the unique needs of victims.
  • Training child welfare staff, mental health professionals, educators, probation officers and judges to recognize the signs of exploitation and how best to intervene.

As a member of this new state workgroup, WestCoast will keep you updated on our progress, and ways you can contribute to our efforts to prevent child exploitation and to better serve victims.

Thank you,

Jodie Langs
Director of Policy and Communications