LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will be used to address child trafficking in Kentucky. The initiatives it will be used for are based on the findings of a two-year study by UofL Kent School of Social Work called Project PIVOT. One of those projects being funded is a new validated screening tool that will help close gaps in current validated screening tools for child trafficking. 

What You Need To Know

  • A $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will be used to address child trafficking in Kentucky

  • The grant will go toward funding recommendations from a UofL Child Trafficking study called Project PIVOT

  • One of the funded initiatives is a new validated screening tool to identify high-risk children

  • The screening tool will help close gaps in current validated screening tools for child trafficking

During the press conference, Principal Investigator on Project PIVOT Jennifer Middleton said one of the phases of the study included researchers interviewing child welfare leaders across the United States to learn about screening tools they used to recognize possible child trafficking victims.

“Our interviews revealed that 24 states have screening protocols, yet only two screening tools, the Human Trafficking Screening Tool and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation-Identification Tool, were found to be validated and successfully utilized across multiple states,” Middleton explained.

So one of the key recommendations from the study given at a press conference Wednesday was for Kentucky’s Department for Community Based Services (DCBS) to develop a new validated screening tool to identify children being trafficked.

Marissa Castellanos, who was not part of the press conference Wednesday, is the program director of the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative. The program under Catholic Charities of Louisville, in part, educates the community on human trafficking.

“Lots of organizations develop tools that work for them, that work specific to what they are doing, but the importance of validated tools is that we know that they work to identify trafficking,” Castellanos said.

She told Spectrum News 1 that there are currently six validated human trafficking screening tools in the United States, but there are gaps within them.

Castellanos explained that no validated screening tools include children under 10. Also, there is no validated tool to screen children 10 to 12 years old for labor trafficking, only sex trafficking. So The Bakhita Empowerment Initiative is working with DCBS, in addition to researchers and practitioners around the country, to create, implement and validate a new screening tool, which would address some of these gaps.

“Does that mean that none of those children are being identified when they have a trafficking history? No. Potentially, they are, but there’s a gap where we’re not able to use a validated tool, and so we want to, of course, make sure we are identifying these children as best we can,” Castellanos said.

With adults, a trafficking screening tool is largely question-based, Castellanos said.

“However, with children we really do have to expand beyond that because they’re so young and look at other components, such as things we know about their experience based on information we have about them already, not just things that would come out in, say, an interview setting,” Castellanos said. She added that there are also conversations with adults who are around the children and have an understanding of their experience and background.

“You know we’re doing things that impact folks in this very direct way. I think it’s our responsibility, our obligation to see how can we do it better,” Castellanos said.

You can watch the entire press conference with key findings and recommendations, including policy, from Project PIVOT below. 

May 20 Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said the Bakhita Empowerment Initiative is developing a validated screening tool to identify child trafficking for DCBS. The story has been changed to reflect that the initiative is working with DCBS, researchers and practictioners to create, implement and validate a new screening tool.