Commercial Sex Trafficking in El Dorado County
By Jeffrey McKay
Sex trafficking is a topic that has received much attention over the past few years, both locally and nationally. You may hear it discussed in the news or on social media using terms such as human trafficking, domestic minor sex trafficking, online sexual exploitation, or commercial sexual exploitation. No matter what description is used, the reality is there are youth in our county who are victims of sexual exploitation at the hands of traffickers and pimps.
Since 2014, the El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) has worked with our County partners and local youth serving organizations to combat and address the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in El Dorado County. This has been accomplished through the establishment of the County’s CSEC Task Force, a multidisciplinary team that includes members from the Probation Department; the District Attorney’s Office; the Sheriff’s Department; the Placerville and South Lake Tahoe Police Departments; the El Dorado County Office of Education; County Counsel; Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of El Dorado County; and HHSA’s Behavioral Health, Public Health and Child Protective Services. The outcomes for youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation can be tragic if intensive services and systems of support are not put in place to serve the complex needs of these victims. The primary goal of the CSEC Task Force is to ensure that County youth who are victims of sexual exploitation or domestic minor sex trafficking are kept safe and receive the services they need.
As the CSEC program coordinator for HHSA, one of the questions I am most often asked is, “How can I get involved and help?” The best ways to help reduce CSEC and human trafficking are to become aware of the issues, educate yourself on the signs of human trafficking and CSEC, and tell someone if you suspect anyone you know is being trafficked or exploited. The Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org) is a great resource for information on human trafficking. Additionally, the County Welfare Director Associations of California’s website (www.cwda.org/csec) is a great starting place for information on CSEC. These resources can serve as a starting point for the conversation on how to best serve youth in our communities who are victims of either human trafficking or sexual exploitation.
Remember, no child can consent to sex and children who are forced into prostitution or exploitation are victims of horrific crimes with life-long effects. While the issues of human trafficking and CSEC are greater than any of us individually, there is nothing we cannot overcome together as informed and engaged citizens of El Dorado County.
If you know a youth who you suspect is being trafficked or exploited, call the El Dorado County Child Protective Services 24-hour hotline on the West Slope at (530) 642-7100, in Tahoe at (530) 573-3201, the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-(888)-373-7888, or call 911. Together, we can stop sexual exploitation and domestic minor sex trafficking in El Dorado County.
Kathleen Guerrero, Executive Director, First 5 El Dorado Commission
Connections matter. Brain connections, caring relationships and thriving communities contribute to healthy communities. The Community Hub Partnership Team believes El Dorado County can build healthy communities by understanding and being intentional about connecting families.
Positive interactions are the foundation for healthy brain development at any age. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child finds brain connections begin before birth, continuing until 26 years of age. Ninety percent of the brain is formed by the time children enter kindergarten, making the first five years of life critical to development. Healthy brain development is interrupted when children are exposed to excessive or prolonged stress referred to as toxic stress.
In the absence of a caring relationship, childhood trauma can disrupt healthy brain development. The ACEs study confirms that toxic stress impacts health outcomes. Adverse Childhoods Experiences or ACEs actually rewire a child’s developing brain. According to the research “the more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence.” People have an ACE score of 0 to 10.
For example, people with an ACE score of 4 are twice as likely to be smokers and 7 times more likely to be alcoholic. Have an increased risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and attempted suicide by 1200 percent. People with high ACE scores are more likely to be violent, to have more marriages, more broken bones, more drug prescriptions, more depression, and more autoimmune diseases. People with an ACE score of 6 or higher are at risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years.
The ACEs screening tool has 10 questions: As a child, did you experience physical, sexual and verbal abuse or physical and emotional neglect. Did you have a family members who was depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness, addicted to alcohol or another substance or in prison, witnessed a mother being abused or lost a parent to separation, divorce or other reason.
Promoting healthy brain development is essential to community development. Research tells us the higher number of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) impacts health outcomes. Children living in resilient families are more likely to overcome ACEs. According to the Robert Wood Johnson California Health Rankings, the county’s ranking has declined in the last five years from 6 to 15. A 2012 Kidsdata.org report shows 71.8% of children in the county were usually or always resilient, but 18.2% have two or more ACEs. In order to improve outcomes, local data is needed to inform effective strategies addressing the disparities such as income, language and access leading to inequity for children and families.
El Dorado County exceeds the state in the number of domestic violence calls for assistance per 100,000 adults (685.7/415.6), substance affected still or live born infants per 1,000 (45.4/23.4) and mental health diagnoses in pregnancy (129.7/48.5). To address these concerns, Public Health Nursing staff in each Hub have conducted community level needs assessments used by Hub Teams in developing outreach plans with strategies to address local issues.
Communities can promote healthy brain development through relationship building. Community Hubs were created to offer community based, prevention and early intervention services in the County. Each Hub has a multi-disciplinary team offering activities focused on early literacy and reading, child development and parenting, and preventative health activities and services. These services are provided at no cost to the families. Each Team member’s position is different but have complimentary roles.
- Early Childhood Literacy Specialists are best known for weekly storytimes at libraries, but also offer books, early literacy kits, and other resources to support parents as their child’s first teacher.
- Community Health Advocates are health staff that focus on improving access to health care and can help with insurance, medical and/or dental provider connections and individualized assistance to help families navigate through the process.
- Family Engagement Specialists assist with everyday child development and parenting questions by connecting families with screening tools, workshops, parenting classes and individual appointments in their community.
- Public Health Nurses provide short-term case management, including home visitation, to help with families that have multiple needs, require physical and/or developmental assessments, or coordination of care between multiple agencies or providers.
Community Hubs are physically located in each El Dorado County Supervisorial district within a public library in: El Dorado Hills, Cameron Park, Placerville, Georgetown, and South Lake Tahoe. While these are central places where Hub activities occur, any place where Community Hub partners serve families within a community is a Hub. For more information on Community Hubs, visit first5eldorado.com/community-hubs.
Second Generation Project Strives to Interrupt the Cycle of Family Violence
By Sarah Pond, MSW
Too many of El Dorado County’s children are growing up in homes plagued with domestic violence. Children’s continually developing brains are like sponges that absorb everything, good and bad. They see the adults in their lives modeling various behaviors, ultimately being their primary source of reference. In a home environment where violence is present, the abusive behaviors become normalized to those who are the direct or indirect victim of such behavior. As a result, the children often exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), somatic issues, and behavioral and relationship issues. One program in El Dorado County, the Second Generation Project is designed to aid in breaking the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence and helping this vulnerable population understand that the abusive behavior is not normal.
The Center for Violence-Free Relationships (The Center) has a variety of programs that serve the residents of El Dorado County who are affected by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. One of the most influential of those programs is the Second Generation Project (SGP). SGP is a 12-week group tailored for children ages 8-12 who have been in homes where domestic violence has occurred. In a healing and therapeutic environment, children learn how to talk about their experiences, develop positive coping skills, meet other children with similar experiences, and participate in group activities that foster growth and development.
This powerful program includes sessions for both children and adults which are facilitated by a social work professional and a domestic violence peer counselor. Children respond to SGP in different ways, some exhibiting change nearly immediately, while others may have a slower response. For instance, a previous parent who was a participant called after the first session and stated that she noticed immediate changes in her child. She shared that her child was more cheerful, cooperative, affectionate, and her child had asked for their favorite breakfast, which they hadn’t asked for in months. Another mother reported on an assessment administered at the intake that her child exhibited a number of behavioral and physical concerns. The total score for the average child on this assessment is below 47 and her child scored a 97. The mother reported that her child frequently experienced headaches, showed constant signs of sadness or unhappiness, consistently had a negative attitude towards others, and had frequent suicidal ideation. When the mother completed the mid-program assessment, her child’s score had dropped drastically to a total of 24, reporting that her child’s aforementioned symptoms had decreased significantly.
There have been many reports from parents and children alike that are similar to these two cases, sharing their enjoyment of the program, support from the other participants, and increase in confidence in sharing their thoughts and feelings. The Center is excited to share SGP with the community and is continually adjusting the program to ensure it meets the needs of the children. If you would like to hear more about SGP and The Center, please call (530)626-1450.
Raising Healthy, Well-Adjusted Children Starts At Home
Written by: Sheryce Allendorf
In a culture where alcohol, marijuana, and other substances are often sensationalized by our media, more and more youth are experimenting with, and/ or using these substances on a regular basis. Whether this is the result of the glamorization of substances, growing up with adults using and partaking in controlled substance use, or ‘trying to fit in;’ as a community, we must do more to engage our youth and encourage healthy coping skills. The California Center for Disease Control reported that 22% of high school students in California, reported having five or more drinks in a row, within a couple of hours, in the previous thirty days. Although this statistic is from 2011, there has been an increase in binge drinking by youth twelve to seventeen years of age based on more recent studies. Additionally, 9.4% of youth twelve to seventeen were reported as current users of illicit drugs, which includes marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, and misuse of prescriptions drugs.
While, as adults, we may minimize the risks posed to youth who use alcohol or other drugs, based on our own childhood experiences, belief system, or media, research has shown that an individual’s brain continues to develop well into young adulthood. The use and/or abuse of alcohol and controlled substances in teens, can impact brain development and negatively impact neurocognitive functioning, which can impact how these youth function in adulthood.
Additionally, in 2014, 33% of youth twelve to seventeen years of age, who use illicit drugs or alcohol, had a co-occurrence of a major depressive episode. With the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, inability to obtain services, and one’s own denial, many youth are going without services that could support mental wellness, and instead, youth are using alcohol and other illicit substances to cope.
How do we help our youth? Whether you are parent, raising a child, or a member of our community, you play a vital role in assisting our youth to become the best they can be. The following are some ways help engage, support, and set examples for our youth:
- Lead by example: If you are using illicit drugs or consuming alcohol which impacts your ability to manage daily responsibilities, seek out help and support.
- Encourage community/recreational involvement
- Stay connected: eat a meal together, play a game, engage in meaningful conversation
- Make plans with your youth; give them something to which they can look forward
- Pay attention: pay attention to a youth’s verbal and non-verbal cues. If there have been changes in behavior, personality, or routine….connect, ask, and provide support.
- Set age appropriate boundaries, and expectations-stand by your word.
- Get to know your children’s friends, and their parents
- Trust your instincts; if you think something is cause for concern, act
Seek out professional support-there are many quality services providers locally that can provide substance use assessments, and mental health services, including, but not limited to, El Dorado County Mental Health, New Morning Youth and Family Services, Summitview Child and Family Services, Sierra Child and Family Services, South Lake Tahoe Family Resource Center, Tahoe Turning Point, and Tahoe Youth and Family Services