A young woman is regularly beaten by her husband, self-medicates with drugs and alcohol and loses her kids to foster care.
A teenage boy runs away and finds himself living on the streets after years of abuse and neglect by his parents struggling with mental illness.
A single mother is laid off from her job and is considering selling herself for sex to pay for food for her children.
These are just a few of the daily, tragic situations we come face-to-face with across Buckner as we support people in need through our various programs in Texas and throughout the world. But these snippets don’t include the rest of the story.
Every day, Buckner meets vulnerable people where they are and walks beside them to help them experience safety, healing and a life where they can thrive.
Intervening before trafficking happens
January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. It's a time to raise awareness and expand prevention activities to prevent exploitation of the vulnerable. But like the situations described above, many anti-trafficking efforts don’t tell the full story and miss the bigger picture.
In my former roles as the director of the Texas Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Texas Regional Office, January was always a flurry of activity.
I would lead public awareness activities – rallies, press conferences, summits, roundtables, panels – educating the public on the signs of human trafficking, urging them to contact NCMEC or the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and calling for more investigations and prosecutions of traffickers.
But human trafficking is a crime that continues to grow despite all of these efforts. Increased awareness, reporting and increased prosecutions were making a dent, but these clearly weren't enough. We were only seeing and addressing the tip of the iceberg.
A big reason I switched gears and came to work at Buckner International two years ago is that after years focused on helping identify, recover and provide services to those already victimized, as well as working to support investigations and prosecutions, I was tired. No doubt this work is necessary and must continue. But I found myself being called to go upstream.
I wanted to focus on preventing trafficking by meeting the needs of vulnerable people before they are ever exploited.
Buckner does this every day. Buckner supports healing for those who have already been trafficked. But we also help prevent human trafficking by empowering the vulnerable. Throughout our continuum of care for children and families, we address the root cause of trafficking: vulnerability.
Giving those in need a safe place to rebuild
We do this in our 26 Buckner Family Hope Center® locations that meet the needs of families so they can survive and thrive in Texas, Kenya and Latin America. We do this through our Buckner Family Pathways® supportive residential housing program for single parents so they can achieve higher education and a career while caring for their children and transforming the future for the whole family.
You can see it in our in-home counseling and coaching programs that help vulnerable children and youth safely stay with their families instead of entering foster care or the juvenile justice system; in our kinship, foster care and adoption programs that ensure children can grow in healthy families; and in our programs that help youth transitioning from foster care, juvenile justice or other challenging circumstances achieve stability, education, occupations and a sense of belonging in their communities.
The rest of those stories I started with look like this: That young woman got out of jail, found a Family Pathways program where she was met with safety, counseling and support through college. She just spent the first Christmas with her children at home in years.
That teenage boy connected with one of our transitional programs for youth and now has a home, a career and a community of colleagues and friends that support him.
That single mother sought help at one of our Family Hope Centers and has found a new job as well as a community of other mothers that support each other. She has a new spiritual strength and hope that has transformed her whole family and they are thriving together.
This January, please join us in our human trafficking prevention efforts by getting involved in our work. Donate, volunteer or provide support in other ways. You can also be a part of the Not On Our Watch movement to help protect our children through raising awareness of online abuse, exploitation and sextortion. The important thing is to answer the call this month to do something. Every one of us can help in some way to empower the vulnerable in our communities and in our world.
Written by Andrea Sparks, director of government relations for Texas for Buckner International.