Emergency Housing and Social Service Options for Children Who Have Been Commercially Sexually Exploited

First Presenter's Institution

Florida State University

Second Presenter's Institution

Florida Atlantic University

Third Presenter's Institution


Fourth Presenter's Institution


Fifth Presenter's Institution



Session 8 (Plimsoll)

Strand #1

Family & Community


This proposal relates strongly to strand 5, “HOME”. This presentation discusses promising practices for providing housing services to children who have been commercially sexually exploited (CSEC). We will speak to a number of the topics described in the HOME strand, including adult-youth partnerships, mentoring, foster care, community programs, University partnerships, and social service programs.

Brief Program Description

For agencies providing housing and other services to CSEC, there is limited information on promising practices. We present findings from surveys completed with 16 programs serving CSEC, including common program components, promising practices, and recommendations for future housing programs


We sent out survey requests to 56 identified agencies serving CSEC across the country. We used phone and email scripts to solicit survey completion, and the semi-structured surveys were completed online or via telephone, at the agency’s request. We found 13 programs were not currently operational; of the remaining agencies, we were able to complete 16 program surveys. Eight of these programs provided direct housing services to CSEC, the remaining provided non-housing services. We found that housing services differed across housing services, with programs reporting foster care, emergency sheltering, safe homes, supportive housing, and residential treatment. Housing programs reported between 1-15 beds for CSEC within their program; however, shelters and safe houses reported a smaller range of 2-9 beds.

Common strengths reported by program staff included the use of outreach case management, designing shelter and residential services in the style of a traditional home, trauma informed treatment modalities, and the use of survivor mentors. The most common challenges reported were lack of resources (including sustaining funding and providing basic needs to CSEC such as clothing or hygiene products), navigating bureaucratic “red tape”, and inter-agency collaboration. Programs also reported minimal resources available for data collection and follow-up, making program evaluation difficult; in fact, only one program interviewed had completed a program evaluation and had specific data available to report at the time of the study. This program, providing specialized foster care to youth, reported statistically significant increases in educational strengths, family functioning and living situation, although the living situation improvement was no longer significant by the second follow up.

Finally, based on our review of the literature and survey findings, we will recommend and discuss the following strategies for CSEC housing services in detail: simplifying the process for starting a housing program and fostering inter-agency relationships; client-focused and survivor mentor driven housing; inclusion of specific housing components such as CSEC foster homes having no other children present in the home; and discussion of evaluation strategies for CSEC housing programs, including the use of Feedback Informed Treatment, Target Problem Scaling, and Goal Attainment Scaling.


Children are considered victims of sexual exploitation when they engage in commercial sex through the use of force, coercion or fraud; this exploitation is defined as severe sexual trafficking since they are under 18 years of age (Ijadi-Maghsoodi, Cook, Barnert, Gaboian, & Bath, 2016). Studies vary greatly in rates of successful housing of CSEC with relatives. Estimates as low as 20% and as high as 80% are found in the literature (e.g., Armstrong, Johnson, Landers, Dollard, & Anderson, 2016; Gibbs, Walters, Lutnick, Miller, & Kluckman, 2015). Despite this very large variance, studies do show some level of need as yet not well specified for more formal housing services and placements for CSEC. The research in addition suggests that youth who are already without housing (homeless) are at higher risk for being sexually trafficked, enhancing even more the need for specialized emergency shelters for CSEC (Lew, 2012) because these children appear to have distinct and differing needs from other children who are in foster care or emergency housing settings. This is the case even compared to other children with sexual abuse histories but who are not commercially sexually exploited. For example, one study found that when compared to foster youth with sexual abuse histories, CSEC had clinically significantly higher rates of trauma and behavioral issues, including skipping school at twice the rate, and developmentally inappropriate sexualized behavior, alcohol and substance use, criminal activity and running away from home at almost three times the rate (Cole, Sprang, Lee, & Cohen, 2016). The impact of this intensification and severity of traumatic experiences have led experts to argue that these children would benefit by more specialized CES targeted services and housing (e.g., Hardy, Compton, & McPhatter, 2013). While the literature consistently documents the distinct needs of CSEC, there are few empirical studies identifying evidence-supported/tested practices that provide either effective services or housing for these CSEC. This in part is due to the very limited number of empirical evaluations currently under way or completed and published (e.g., Armstrong et al., 2015; Landers et al., 2017).

While the limited studies available provide some insight into the current housing practices and approaches for CSEC, there are still many questions left unanswered. For example, a few programs mentioned having specially trained foster families for CSEC, but little information was given about how these programs were implemented or how they operated, and if these programs are more effective than group-style residential services. The available literature also noted that thre were very few empirical evaluations of housing programs for CSEC both in the US and internationally (Ijadi-Maghsoodi et al., 2006) at present. It is also clear that there is scant specialized training and programming for CSEC, particularly for housing services and that these need to be validated for their effectiveness specifically on CSEC since many of these housing approaches were developed originally for other at risk vulnerable youth and the field now is just assuming that they are also going to work on CSEC (Geist, 2012; Gibbs et al., 2015; Hardy. Compton, & McPhatter, 2013.

In the absence of current valid empirical evaluations of programs in the existing literature, we have surveyed staff at available agencies across the United States to gain a more thorough understanding of the current services and program models offered to CSEC. From the present review, we have identified several areas for future empirical inquiry, including specific descriptions of program components and their implementation procedures, program eligibility criteria, detailed budgetary income/expenditures of such programs (including personnel, capital costs, and other budgetary items), and address these areas based on our gathered data.


Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

1. Tomi Gomory (PhD, Berkeley, 1998) is an Associate Professor at the College of Social Work, Florida State University (FSU) and has worked at FSU since 1998. His primary research interests are homelessness, adult and child mental health, evaluation of practice, philosophy of science, and social work education. Before beginning his academic career, he spent ten years working as a social worker, including as a clinician, director of the first adult homeless shelter in Brooklyn and a stint as the San Francisco project director of the Robert Wood Johnson and HUD coordinated federal Homeless Families Model Project. He has published extensively on issues related to mental health treatment and evaluation, homelessness, social work education and evidence-based practice. He recently published along with two colleagues his award winning book, Mad Science: Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis, and Drugs in America, published by Routledge in 2013.

2. Dr. Danielle Groton is an Assistant Professor at Florida Atlantic University, where she teaches at the Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work. Her research focuses on homelessness and housing practices. In addition to her PhD, Danielle has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Master of Public Administration, with a focus on non-profit management and evaluation. Prior to Florida Atlantic University, she was the Program Director for The Kearney Center, a comprehensive emergency services center in North Florida.

Keyword Descriptors

trafficking, youth, at-risk, housing, services, program evaluation

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-6-2019 9:45 AM

End Date

3-6-2019 12:30 PM

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Mar 6th, 9:45 AM Mar 6th, 12:30 PM

Emergency Housing and Social Service Options for Children Who Have Been Commercially Sexually Exploited

Session 8 (Plimsoll)

For agencies providing housing and other services to CSEC, there is limited information on promising practices. We present findings from surveys completed with 16 programs serving CSEC, including common program components, promising practices, and recommendations for future housing programs