A new report on how Florida handles young human trafficking victims is receiving mixed reviews.
Florida continues to be third in the nation for human trafficking cases. Most involve young sex trafficking victims, and that number appears to be rising.
In 2015, more than 260 were identified. That number grew by almost 100 last year.
That’s according to a report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. It’s titled, “DCF and Its Lead Agencies Have Not Resolved Issues Related to Serving Commercially Sexually Exploited Children.”
And, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll is not sure of that name.
“When reports go out like that and it says, ‘DCF and Its Lead Agencies Have Not Resolved Issues Related to Serving Commercially Sexually Exploited Children,’ that’s absolutely correct,” he said, at a Thursday subcommittee meeting of the Statewide Council for Human Trafficking. “We have not solved that issue. But, I am much more positive than what that title conjures up. I really am.”
The OPPAGA report states more than half of the kids identified as sex trafficking victims may be referred to local services, but it’s unclear how many use the services since there’s no data—mainly because the cases don’t originate in Florida’s child welfare system.
Still, Carroll says what’s missing a bit from the 23-page report is some context and perspective, adding Florida has made a lot of gains in its statewide anti-human trafficking efforts.
“There’s a big issue in here about data,” he continued. “There’s a big issue in here about our screening tool, and how we deal with community kids. And, all of those kids have been issues that we’ve struggled with. But, when I think about three years ago, it wasn’t even a real good understanding of what human trafficking was in this state, what the scale and scope of it was, what impacts it had. And, so, as we have worked with the community, I think public awareness is up. I think this topic is pervasive now in all of our agencies.”
But, the OPPAGA report does point out that a new law—supported by DCF—will require the child welfare agency to maintain data on all children classified as “commercially sexually exploited,” not just those in the foster care system.
As in previous reports, OPPAGA researchers also identified a number of issues with a human trafficking screening tool—developed by DCF and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
That tool helps identify young human trafficking victims that investigators may come across in the field. But, the report states there are issues with how DCF and DJJ screen for the kids and problems with the tool itself accurately identifying these victims.
And, Carroll says he sees this as a learning opportunity on things the agencies can be doing better.
“I think for the first time, we have a screening tool,” he stated. “Do we have issues with consistently implementing that tool? Yes. Do we have opportunities to go back and validate it or possibly streamline its use? Absolutely! But, we have a told that we’ve never had before, and it’s only been in place for such a short period of time. So, I looked at that as a positive, not a negative. And, I looked at the need to validate and go back and improve upon it as a natural way of doing business.”
And, DJJ Secretary Christy Daly says with several goals in mind, they have a lot of work to do.
“I think what the report really represents is that a} there has been progress made, but b) really what we have outlined moving forward are the right things that we need to be focused on,” she said. “And, I think that it’s a great thing. We still have a lot of work to do, and I think that the things that we have outlined as our goals are going to be what really gets us to a comprehensive approach to this in Florida.”
As both Daly and Carroll sit on the Attorney General’s Statewide Council for Human Trafficking, Daly says she’s especially glad for the work the council does and continues to do to bring more awareness to the issue.
Meanwhile, as part of the report, OPPAGA researchers did allow DCF and DJJ to give detailed responses to their findings.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.