Rapid Response Teams – SFM’s frontline against human trafficking

January 2024 · Forward in Hope, Mission Brief, Trauma

As people deeply immersed in the field of child welfare and family services, Saint Francis staff offer significant expertise about the wide range of issues and traumas that affect those we serve. One of those issues is human trafficking. Since January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we’ve asked Jessica Ristich to share one of the ways in which Saint Francis Ministries works with community partners to protect children and youth from human trafficking.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, but for some Saint Francis Ministries staff, every day involves human trafficking awareness. Since 2013, Saint Francis Ministries in Kansas has contracted with the Department for Children and Families to provide an “Immediate Response Assessment” for any youth found in our DCF catchment areas that law enforcement or Juvenile Intake and Assessments Centers (JIAC) believe may be a survivor of human trafficking.

Saint Francis has three responders on call 24/7, one for each catchment area. At any time, one of the three responders could be called to complete an assessment and to provide recommendations for the immediate safety, treatment, and placement needs of a potential human trafficking survivor. Responders are specially trained to work with survivors and to recognize their current and future risks for exploitation, underlying trauma needs, along with the subtle signs in appearance and demeanor that could indicate the youth is at risk for trafficking.

Responders also look for signs of branding or grooming while trying to determine where a youth might have been kept and the appropriate steps for ensuring their safety and meeting their treatment needs. Responders receive training in labor and sex trafficking, both which have occurred over the last 10 years in Kansas.

Saint Francis responds to all calls within our catchment area, but staff may interview any youth not in DCF custody or in the care of another state contractor. They can also interview youth from another state or in parental custody. Saint Francis Ministries partners with law enforcement and JIACs to make recommendations and decisions for next steps for each youth. One of those steps could include a stay at a “Residential Staff Secure Unit.”

Stays at this unit give the young person time to decompress from their traumatic experience in a safe environment with the help of trained professionals. It also gives law enforcement time to continue gathering information for their investigation, while keeping the survivor safe from further harm. The Staff Secure Unit completes assessments during this time and identifies follow-up treatment needs for the survivor once released.

Saint Francis Ministries works hard to protect and help children and youth heal from human trafficking, but it’s a national problem. To fight it, we all have to work together. If you suspect a young person might be a victim of trafficking contact local law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Help is available 24/7.

Director of Placement Services, Kansas Jessica Ristich has also served on the SFM Rapid Response Team since 2013. In 2020 she became its director.