VYH selected for National My Life My Choice Prevention Solution Fellowship

Preventing the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in our Region

The insidious problem of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) requires innovative solutions.  Effectively addressing this complex issue requires creative thinking, dedicated individuals, and an informed approach.  Among the strongest assets in this fight are the many congregate care programs across the country—those whose staff are on the front lines, working directly with youth at the highest risk of exploitation.

Valley Youth House has been selected as an inaugural recipient of the My Life My Choice Prevention Solution Fellowship, a brand new opportunity for congregate care programs across the country to receive free training, consultation, and partnership in implementing the groundbreaking My Life My Choice Prevention Solution Model of preventing CSEC among adolescent girls.

My Life My Choice, based in Boston, is a pioneering, survivor-led program fighting to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.  Previous research has identified involvement with the child welfare system as one of the most prevalent risk factors for youth to become sexually exploited.  The My Life My Choice Prevention Solution Model (PSM) is a tiered approach designed to shift attitudes, knowledge, and skills, backed by research that demonstrates its success in preventing CSEC among youth at the highest risk of exploitation using the 10-session My Life My Choice Exploitation Prevention Curriculum.  By educating youth at disproportionate risk of exploitation, as well as training the individuals and organizations who serve them directly, up through advocacy within the systems that shape organizations’ and governing bodies’ responses to the issue, the PSM is a comprehensive, effective method of preventing CSEC among adolescents.

Due to the size and location of the Lehigh Valley, both Lehigh and Northampton Counties experience high rates of human trafficking. In September, U.S. Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) announced that a grant totaling $494,827 over three years from the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime was awarded to Valley Youth House to fund housing programs and support services for victims of human trafficking. This grant will specifically help Valley Youth House fund the newly created THRIVE (Transitional Housing. Resilience. Independence. Victorious. Empowerment.) program, offering housing, meals, clothes, and personal items for female-identifying survivors ages 14-21, and connecting them with peer mentors, drug and alcohol treatment, psychiatric care, employment training, and medical/dental care.

“The My Life My Choice Prevention Solution Fellowship will inform every element of our THRIVE program. It will provide us with the necessary training to enable more effective CSEC prevention and treatment. In addition, consultation with a survivor-led organization will allow us to build and staff a program that is specifically designed to meet the needs of this population”, said Ken Klein, Vice President, Valley Youth House Northeast Pennsylvania Housing and Emergency Services.

“Through this Fellowship, we will have the opportunity to network with other agencies across the country that are also successful in serving survivors of CSEC”, said Alycha Boehm, MSW, LSW, Clinical Coordinator, Valley Youth House Independent Living, Housing, and Emergency Services.

Five congregate care organizations serving adolescent girls, located in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, North Dakota, Arizona, and Oregon, were selected through the rigorous Prevention Solution Fellowship application process to receive free training and consultation from expert My Life My Choice staff in implementing the Prevention Solution Model in their programs, beginning in September 2020. Over the course of 12 months, these programs will gain invaluable skills and tools for effective CSEC prevention, engaging in multilevel staff training, networking opportunities including survivor leadership, and ongoing consultation designed to facilitate long-term implementation of the Prevention Solution Model.

As congregate care facilities across the country work to comply with the new Family First Prevention Services Act and create quality residential programming aimed at preventing exploitation, the Prevention Solution Model is a well-researched method for moving forward.

The goal of the Prevention Solution Fellowship is to sustainably increase capacity and impact in the area of human trafficking prevention on a national scale.  The five Fellowship recipients have demonstrated an existing investment in combating the issue of CSEC in their programs, as well as a commitment to sustaining the practices, policies, and CSEC prevention programming of the Prevention Solution Model beyond the Fellowship period.