After Report Questions Effectiveness, DCF Head Defends Florida's Human Trafficking Tool

Oct 7, 2016

Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll speaking during a meeting of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, earlier this year.
Credit Florida Channel

The head of Florida’s child welfare agency is defending a human trafficking tool used by his agency and some others. His remarks follow a report released months ago that questions the tool’s effectiveness.

The Human Trafficking Assessment Tool has been in place for more than a year. The Florida Department of Children and Families and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice developed the tool to allow assessors to screen for young human trafficking victims by asking the child a series of questions in an online database.

They include questions about living and work conditions to questions surrounding suspicious tattoos.

DJJ Secretary Christy Daly says a few indicators will trigger the tool’s usage by the screener.

“Four or more instances of running away, they’re coming in on charges of prostitution, history of sexual abuse,” said Daly, listing some examples last year.

Before the tool, agency officials say it was hard to track Florida’s human trafficking victims. Now, the goal is to identify CSE victims also known as child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. It also identifies juvenile victims of labor trafficking.

“It’s allowing us to not only identify these young people, but it’s also giving the state of Florida an opportunity to really look at what the needs of these kids are and how we can come together as a state to really address the service delivery and where the holes are in the state,” she added. “It’s certainly increased the collaborative effort between DCF and DJJ and utilizing a uniform screening tool will allow us to not screen multiple kids multiple times.”

But, a July report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability raised concerns about the tool. The OPPAGA report states some lead agency staff “expressed concerns” that the screening questions were “too broad” and “time consuming.”

Several DCF Child Protective investigators stated they did not even use the tool because it does not allow for a rapport to build OR the length of the document intimidated the victims.

And, they felt it would be better used at a juvenile assessment center.

But, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll says his agency has modified the tool to suit his agency’s needs.

“What we did when we developed that tool—it was developed by DJJ and shared with DCF—and we kind of had to modify it just a little bit so that it could fit into a service model of a protective investigation environment and we began piloting in certain jurisdiction areas by training folks,” said Carroll, speaking during a recent Statewide Council on Human Trafficking meeting. “And, then we brought it full scale across the state. I’d like to say we’re full scale now.”

And, Carroll feels the tool has made gains in tracking human trafficking victims.

“We do think using the tool has helped us because if you look at the number of folks who have been referred to the hotline and even the numbers of verified cases we have, there’s no questions that those numbers have gone up,” he continued. “So, we think we have had an improvement. We’ve much work to do, but we think there’s been a significant improvement about how we go about identifying.”

In fact, Carroll says those investigators having problems just don’t have enough experience—which he says people who don’t really know about the child investigative field are unaware of.

“The reality of it is 80 percent of our staff in protective investigations have two or less experience on the job,” he stated. “60 percent of them have one or less experience on the job. It’s a very stressful job, where we turn folks over pretty rapidly. And, so are there people that we currently have on the ground that have not been trained or are not consistently using the tool the way we designed it? Absolutely! And, we have a challenge in front of us, more associated not necessarily with this tool and the effectiveness of this tool—more aligned to the environment that exist in our workforce and the situation on the ground and we’ll continue to work that.”

Meanwhile, the OPPAGA report did state DJJ staff members—who are used to formally assessing kids—had no issues using the tool—though they did feel it was lengthy.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.