A phone call comes in from a child welfare agency: it is believed a youth in their care has been exploited. How can we equip this youth in a short period of time to protect themselves from the dangers they could be facing?
Our Rapid Response starts with a conversation and backpack.
We begin by talking about the grooming process traffickers use, how to stay safe online, healthy relationships, and solutions to potentially dangerous situations. To support that conversation, we leave the youth with a backpack filled with a range of items children and service providers have identified as being critical for this population.
Each backpack is filled to the brim—it can be tricky to even zip up. It’s filled with a blanket, a journal, a rain poncho, a teddy bear, toiletries, hotline numbers, an emergency phone (that only calls 911), and much more. As we prepare each backpack, we think about the impact it can have on a youth.
Yes, the function of the items is important, of course, but for some youth, receiving a backpack filled with brand new items—just for them—means more.
After implementing a Rapid Response with a young girl, a social worker from a state child welfare agency shared with Erin Williamson, Love146 U.S. Survivor Care Program Director, about how exciting it was to watch this youth’s reaction to the backpack:
“She opened the backpack right away in my office and started looking at every single thing. It was almost like Christmas morning. She loved the blanket, and couldn’t stop talking about how soft and cozy it was. She put the bracelet (which has the National Human Trafficking Hotline engraved on the inside) on and thought it was really neat. And the teddy bear! She loved that little teddy bear. You could just tell she was going to cuddle with it that night.
‘Wow, this is for me?’ the youth said.
She was so amazed that this was her backpack. She could take it with her anywhere she went—she was especially excited because she was moving to a different facility that night. She was so happy that she had something that was hers, that was given specifically to her, and that it was brand new.
If you saw the smile on her face, like I did, you would definitely know that the backpack really meant something to her. Her face was lit up.”
Each one of the items inside the Rapid Response Backpacks were thoughtfully chosen based on our experiences and conversations with others. From nut-free granola bars to fuzzy teddy bears, and alcohol-free hand sanitizer to activity books, each specific item meets health and safety concerns, and was carefully selected to ensure each child receives critical resources as well as the feeling of being valued.
Love146 provides long term holistic survivor care in the U.S., and some youth that receive these backpacks end up in Love146’s long-term care, but for those who don’t, Rapid Response helps ensure they have information and resources to protect them. At present, Love146 is doing Rapid Responses with youth in Connecticut.
Help fill more Rapid Response Backpacks:
Are you a Connecticut local and want to donate in-person? Email email@example.com for a list of items we can accept and more information on coordinating your donation.