Kyla P. McDonald, Riana Fisher, Jennifer Connolly

An exploratory evaluation of a model of care for youth who are at risk of sexual exploitation and human trafficking

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Health (social science)

AbstractThe sexual exploitation of children and youth remains a critical issue within the child welfare system, despite the limited availability of models of care to support these vulnerable individuals. The START with the YOUTH (STAR‐Y) program adopts a preventative approach, offering personalized care and wraparound support to youth exhibiting at‐risk behaviours. This paper employs a case study methodology using both thematic and content analyses to longitudinally assess the effectiveness of this exploratory program. This evaluation encompasses a comprehensive assessment of various factors associated with the risk of sexual exploitation among program participants. Throughout the program's extended duration (originally planned for one year), predefined risk factors, including concerning Internet behaviours, were monitored and analysed. Qualitative data were gathered through interviews and observations, focusing on the experiences of both the youth and their foster parents. The results highlight the program's successful implementation, with youth enrollment (N = 3) demonstrating a reduction in sexual exploitation risk factors over time, including a decrease in behaviours such as concerning Internet usage. The importance of wraparound support and the foster parent‐youth relationship in mitigating risk and nurturing resilience became evident. This exploratory evaluation serves as the initial phase of a comprehensive assessment aimed at understanding how to effectively support youth within this population, including those at higher risk, such as those possibly involved in sex trafficking. The study's findings provide valuable insights into strategies for mitigating the risk of sexual exploitation among vulnerable youth, informing future endeavours to develop and implement similar programs within the child welfare system.

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