TALLAHASSEE — On Jan. 10, Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Shevaun Harris, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Taylor Hatch, and stakeholders recognized January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month, highlighted Florida’s investment and resources for survivors of human trafficking and reiterated the state’s ongoing efforts to end human trafficking.
“This administration has aggressively worked to end human trafficking in our state,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez. “Working with law enforcement and our state partners, we will continue to find ways to root out these illicit activities from our communities. Governor DeSantis and I are committed to supporting survivors with more resources, enhanced services, and safe living arrangements.”
Last year, Governor DeSantis signed SB 1690 into law, which enhanced requirements related to education and awareness materials in youth residential settings, as well as authorizing the DCF to create a certification program for adult safe homes.
“At the Department of Children and Families, we are laser focused on equipping parents and caregivers of children with the best resources and tools to help prevent the children in their care from becoming victims of human trafficking,” said DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris. “We believe that education and knowledge is the key to prevention which is why we have created a tool kit and trainings that will assist our staff to identify signs of trafficking along with creating prevention strategies for the children and families that we serve on a daily basis.”
Throughout the month of January, DCF will be handing out tool kits for parents, caregivers, youth, DCF employees and others who work with children daily. These valuable resources will educate each of these individuals and help them better understand what human trafficking is, how to recognizing the signs and where to find proper tools and information on whom to call to report trafficking, options for connecting to services in their local area, tips on protecting children from predators, and information about connecting to Hope Florida for other needs a family may have.
Currently, DCF oversees and licenses 37 beds for child survivors of human trafficking, and there are 93 beds in Florida for adult survivors. In Florida there is an increased need for adult beds, and to respond, Governor DeSantis’ Focus on Florida’s Future Budget recommends expanding capacity by adding 48 new human trafficking beds, which equates to 17,520 bed days at a cost of $5 million.
During 2023, DCF convened state leaders to identify shared strategies with the goal of increasing awareness and helping caregivers of children understand the importance of recognizing the signs of human trafficking in all forms. Specifically, the DCF is highlighting the increase of targeting vulnerable youth using social media, gaming devices and a wide variety of social media apps to victimize children.
The DCF is also working with Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to develop strategies and share best practices in the fight against human trafficking. Together, the DCF and APD have implemented a program that will train all APD staff on signs and indicators of trafficking of vulnerable children and adults to increase identification, reporting, and prevention efforts.
“Thanks to the unwavering leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez, Florida continues to fight for and protect those most vulnerable among us, including those with unique abilities, from the heinous and evil acts related to human trafficking,” said APD Director Taylor Hatch. “Collectively we are stronger, and we call on all partners to join in the effort against human trafficking by taking an active role to recognize the signs and report suspected exploitation and abuse.”
Florida’s continued commitment to ending human trafficking is instrumental in expanding initiatives like the Citrus Helping Adolescents Negatively Impacted by Commercial Exploitation (CHANCE) Program by Citrus Health Network, which provides children with clinical treatment primarily centered around Trauma-Focused Care, Cognitive Behavioral Treatment, and motivational interviewing.
“I want every trafficking survivor out there to know that we see you, we are standing with you, and we will not stop fighting for you,” said Dr. Jerry Haag, President and CEO of One More Child.
“Survivors of human trafficking have unique, complex needs that must be addressed through specialized mental health services,” said Mario Jardon, LCSW, President and CEO, Citrus Health Network. “Citrus Health Network developed the CHANCE Program ten years ago to serve young people who have endured the trauma of commercial exploitation with those needs in mind. We are fortunate to work with dedicated partners at the state and local level to keep human trafficking as a top priority issue. Expanding the CHANCE Program to additional regions shows the State of Florida’s commitment to continued collaboration that gives survivors opportunities to thrive as we work together to eradicate human trafficking.”