A new Texas law aims to help countless children who are victims of human trafficking through a grant program.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced the creation of the program after Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2633 into law this year.
Texas Health and Human Services will administer the funds to help address the high need for emergency shelters and treatment programs. Facilities that provide protection and recovery services to child and adolescent victims are eligible for help.
A 2016 report by the University of Texas at Austin found there were 79,000 youth out of the estimated 313,000 sex and labor trafficking victims in the state.
Sandy Hennip, executive director of Unbound North Texas, said it is wonderful news there will be more financial support for youth. The organization created Tarrant County’s first youth shelter in October. The drop-in shelter is located in One Safe Place.
“These resilient youth deserve trauma-informed services and safe and secure shelter,” Hennip said in a statement. “We see the need for this every day as our advocates and drop-in center staff serve youth who have been trafficked and exploited right here in our community.”
The need for services in Texas
Karyn Purvis and David Cross, two researchers at Texas Christian University, developed a training method in the 1990s that is now helping law enforcement and service providers interact with youth victims.
Trust-Based Relational Intervention Training (TBRI) was first used at summer camps for children who have experienced developmental trauma, abuse and neglect. In 2017, TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development began training law enforcement and other professionals who help youth victims of human trafficking.
Karen Furman, project liaison for the Karyn Purvis Institute, said the training helps service providers and law enforcement learn how to help youth victims feel safe, especially if they are dealing with trauma. Providers learn how to approach youth in a gentle manner, help children have a voice and protect their bodies.
“Whenever we see a need, we try to help meet the need,” Furman said. “Part of meeting the need for the individuals who’ve been trafficked is to help transform cultures of care.”
The university has trained over 3,100 people in TBRI for youth trafficking victims across the state.
The new state grant program will help facilities provide mental and behavioral health services, immediate trauma support, medical care and referrals, legal advocacy, and shelters.
Lindsey Speed, executive director of Traffick911, thanked Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston) for authoring the legislation. Traffick911 helps youth victims in North Texas through a variety of services, including a crisis-response team and volunteer mentors.
“Most people do not realize the funding barriers survivors of sex trafficking are up against when it comes to specialized, trauma-informed housing and rehabilitation programs for their healing - we are working with survivors every day who have these needs,” Speed said in a statement.
Health and Human Services, the Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Unit and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are working together to identify and place youth in facilities funded by the program.
The public can donate to the state’s grant program at: www.texas.gov/StopTrafficking/