Drugs and Kids: Stopping the Sexual Trafficking of Minors Through Community Engagement

by Rhonda Sciortino

Where there is child sexual trafficking, there often also are drugs. Traffickers give kids drugs to make them comply, to make them quit crying or complaining, and to incapacitate them so that they are unable to fight or escape. Once a young person is addicted, their still-developing brain doesn’t function as it was designed to, and their perspective is skewed. Consequently, they can begin to believe what their trafficker is telling them.

As if that weren’t bad enough, parents who are struggling with addiction sometimes become complicit in the trafficking of their own children. Children of parents affected by addiction are often neglected; worse, they can be vulnerable to mistreatment by others while their parent is under the influence. Some parents even give their children to traffickers in exchange for the drugs that are destroying their lives.

Private, nonprofit child welfare organizations do the very difficult work of trying to help children and families who have suffered from substance addiction and associated trauma. Wouldn’t it be better if the staff of these organizations could use their wealth of experience, wisdom, and expertise to help families before they become distressed, and before they are in crisis?

One promising program is Safe Families for Children (www.safe-families.org), an evidence-based child abuse prevention program based in Chicago. Established in 2003, Safe Families for Children is a volunteer-led, professionally supervised, grassroots movement that has connected more than 25,000 families in more than 4,500 churches in 32 states with over 35,000 children of families in distress.

More than 93 percent of the children hosted by Safe Families have been reunited with their birth families—often with the two families remaining connected for life. The average length of stay in foster care, according to the Children’s Action Network, is approximately two years; the average length of stay with a Safe Family is 45 days. The juxtaposition in corresponding expenses is even more dramatic, with the average annual cost of foster care roughly estimated at $50,000 per child and the average annual cost of a Safe Family hosting a child being $1,500.

This is not to imply that there isn’t a place for quality child welfare organizations. Safe Families cannot care for children of families in distress without the certification, training, and oversight of a private, nonprofit, properly licensed, and well-respected child welfare entities. And there will always be children who need more than a Safe Family can provide. The child welfare organizations that partner with Safe Families for Children are necessary for identifying and providing a higher level of care for those children and families where the indicators of distress rise to the level of crisis.

Safe Families for Children is just one of the many volunteer-led, community engaged programs of the LOVE IS ACTION Community Initiative, which gives every individual, group, house of worship, and business an opportunity to come alongside the private, nonprofit child and family services organizations in their area. Can you envision a community in which neighborhood groups help reduce burnout and turnover of social work staff by encouraging them with gift certificates for dinner and movies? Can you imagine a local church hosting a monthly (trauma-informed, trained) volunteer-staffed club for kids in foster care to allow siblings who have been separated to reconnect while giving foster parents a three-hour break? Or a nonprofit organization that exists solely to negotiate 70-90 percent discounts on new clothes and shoes for children in care, freeing up funds that are desperately needed elsewhere? Or employees at hotels, restaurants, and retail stores who are trained to identify signs of child trafficking and empowered to report possible trafficking?

All of these examples, and many more, are actual ways in which people in different communities pitch in to do the important work that contributes to stopping the commercial exploitation of children. For more information, go to www.loveisactioncommunityinitiative.org.


Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through and many other books—including Kindness Quotient, released in August 2018—used the coping skills gained from an abusive childhood to create two successful businesses that specialized in insurance and risk management of child welfare organizations. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares that everyone can succeed because of what they’ve been through. Rhonda is a national spokesperson for Safe Families for Children, chairperson of the Successful Survivors Foundation, and National Champion of the Love Is Action Community Initiative.

To purchase or download this issue of Children’s Voice, visit our Bookstore page.