The Los Angeles County Office of Education has been selected as one of eight agencies nationwide and three in California to develop a program to prevent human trafficking victimization.
The Human Trafficking Youth Prevention Education demonstration program is among the first federal programs specifically designed to build resiliency to human trafficking in children and youth, LACOE officials said.
LACOE has been awarded $561,358 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families for three years to implement the program in partnership with the nonprofit iEmpathize.
As many as 30,000 children in the U.S. are involved each year in human trafficking, according to LACOE officials, and the FBI has designated Los Angeles County as one of the nation's main trafficking hubs.
Children and youth make up an estimated 50% of victims and are particularly susceptible to human trafficking, especially those who have experienced prior abuse or housing and economic instability.
Additional partners for the program include the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the University of Southern California's Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, survivors of human trafficking and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Social Services.
The program will provide skill-based prevention education for school staff and students in grades six to 12, with a goal to increase knowledge around labor and sex trafficking, address risk and protective factors, build resilience and encourage healthy behaviors, according to LACOE.
A Human Trafficking School Safety Protocol will be developed to guide educators on handling suspected and confirmed cases of human trafficking.
The project's initial phase will be implemented in high-incidence communities served by the Compton and Long Beach unified school districts, as well as in LACOE's Juvenile Court and Community Schools that serve incarcerated and other vulnerable students.
Additional areas to be served include Sylmar, Los Angeles, Malibu, La Verne, Hawthorne, San Dimas, Whittier, Pico Rivera, El Monte, Pomona and Monterey Park, with plans to expand countywide to all 80 school districts and more than 300 independent charters within Los Angeles County, according to LACOE.