Child welfare caseworkers are an invaluable resource in helping communities respond to the sex trafficking of children. Children involved with child welfare are at a greater risk for being targeted by traffickers because of their potentially unstable living situations, physical distance from friends and family, traumatic experiences and emotional vulnerability.

Therefore, it is imperative that child welfare caseworkers are on the frontlines of identifying, responding to and preventing child sex trafficking. Not only can they connect with potential victims before it’s too late, but they can also ensure that survivors remain safe and receive the support services they need.

We recently connected with Marika Quinn who is a caseworker for the Arapahoe County Child Protection Services’ Sexual Abuse and Recovery Team. She has an incredible heart for the young people who have been victims of human trafficking and an amazing ability to connect with them and lead them to safety and change when they are ready.

How do you identify and build rapport with youth who are victims of trafficking?
I consider my approach very carefully. Trafficking victims are unlikely to disclose their situation right away, and confronting them with suspicions could seriously disrupt my efforts to build trust. I never tell them that what they are doing is wrong. There is a strong trauma bonding that occurs between victims and their traffickers and so oftentimes, the victims may not see what I’m trying to do as helping them.

One way I build trust is giving them my cell phone number and encouraging them to text me whenever they need to talk. Especially with young girls, they are just looking for someone to connect with. I establish myself as a positive connection and show them that I’m not going anywhere.

How do you know when your efforts are working?
Victims frequently return to their traffickers throughout the intervention process. As a caseworker, we need to be patient and understand that they cannot be forced to do anything before they are ready. Once they finally stop running away from help, we ensure that appropriate support systems are in place so that they can continue on their path to recovery.

What support services do you provide victims to help them transition out of trafficking?
It is essential to help them learn how to manage the emotions, behaviors and other challenging life situations they will face after leaving their trafficker. We have a great partnership with the team at Embark Counseling who provides mental health support specifically designed for victims of trafficking. Gaining the confidence to live independently on their own is a big challenge, so we also connect them with programs to help them finish their GED and show them how to apply for jobs. Throughout the process, we are constantly demonstrating our support and providing them with examples of positive, healthy relationships.