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HHS Awards $497,000 to USM Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training

Fri, 10/28/2022 - 13:53pm | By: Karelia Pitts

The University of Southern Mississippi’s newly established Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training (CHRT) in the School of Social Work was awarded $497,000 for the first year of a five-year demonstration program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

“We are delighted that ACF has recognized and chosen to invest in our Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training. This grant, one of only two awarded nationally, will enable our program and gifted professors Hurst, Hogan and Brazeal to do transformative work to move our state, region and nation closer to eliminating the horrific occurrences of human trafficking,” said University President Joe Paul. “The focus of this work in developing response protocols and systems of care within South Mississippi health care systems will be a game changer. I am continually proud of the vision and good work of our faculty in the USM School of Social Work.”

This support from HHS comes through their SOAR (Stop, Observe, Ask, Respond) to Health and Wellness Training Demonstration Grant Program. Under the leadership of Drs. Tamara Hurst, Kimberly Hogan and Michelle Brazeal, funding for the SOARing in Mississippi project will kickstart CHRT’s efforts. Drs. Hurst and Hogan are also co-directors of the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training.

Dr. Michelle Brazeal“We are excited about the opportunity provided by the SOAR to Health and Wellness Demonstration Program. The funding and assistance will create a unique opportunity to bring together community members and providers to develop a system of care that supports survivors and identifies those at risk of exploitation,” said Dr. Brazeal.

The project’s human trafficking response continuum of care will include law enforcement agencies, service providers addressing homelessness, child advocacy centers, behavioral health teams, human trafficking service providers and others. For additional support, partnerships have been established with the following entities:

The lead human trafficking service provider for the project, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, will house a care coordinator who will be a critical link between patients/clients and the agencies in the continuum of care. By working collectively, the members and leaders of these groups will provide SOARing in Mississippi with the infrastructure needed to develop a comprehensive and sustainable continuum of care that can be replicated in other parts of the state.

Dr. Kimberly Hogan“SOARing in Mississippi will meet critical needs in our state by addressing the gaps in human trafficking training within health care and behavioral health settings,” said Dr. Hogan. “We hope these trainings and capacity building efforts will lead to increases in identification and capacity to serve individuals, patients and clients who have experienced sex and labor trafficking.”

In most cases, CHRT team members have experienced that employees of health care and behavioral health facilities in the state of Mississippi are not trained to recognize and respond to individuals who have experienced human trafficking. Although multiple state agencies offer human trafficking training, addressing the health care and behavioral health professions represents a notable gap in their efforts.

CHRT’s SOARing in Mississippi project seeks to bridge the gap by building a continuum of care and increasing knowledge, capacity and human trafficking response protocols with health care and behavioral health providers in the Pine Belt and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a geographic location known to possess high-risk employment industries and vulnerable populations. These efforts will improve providers’ ability to intervene and appropriately respond to patients/clients who experience severe forms of human trafficking.

Dr. Tamara Hurst“We are thrilled with this unique opportunity to improve Mississippi’s response to human trafficking. The funding and technical assistance provided by the SOAR to Health and Wellness Demonstration Program will support our team’s efforts to implement positive change for the benefit of survivors and those at risk of exploitation,” said Dr. Hurst.

The population to be served includes individuals at risk of or experiencing sex and labor trafficking, regardless of their gender identification, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity or age. The training and evaluation components of the program will focus on employees of the state’s third largest federally qualified health center, Coastal Family Health Center, and the grant team will continue to seek additional partnerships with hospitals and health departments to expand their efforts. The team’s partnership with the William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine will be critical to developing these relationships.

Provider trainings will be led by Drs. Hogan and Hurst, who are human trafficking subject matter experts with extensive experience working with state and local agencies in the geographic area. Physicians within WCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine will also be supporting and enhancing the trainings offered.

To compliment the expertise of these social work and medical professionals, lived experience experts will offer technical support and guidance alongside a consultant from HEAL Trafficking. These consultants will review all training materials, human trafficking response protocols and agency policies to ensure the efforts effectively address the population's needs. Lived experience expert and consultant Nathan Earl, a survivor of human trafficking and Master of Public Health candidate at Yale University, is enthusiastic about the SOARing in Mississippi project.

“The outcome of this grant and the Center's work to prevent human trafficking in the Deep South will undoubtedly prove to be truly transformational,” said Earl. “We're excited to be partnering with USM and health centers across Mississippi to advocate for and empower all vulnerable populations.”

To learn more about the Center for Human Trafficking Research and Training, visit usm.edu/chrt. For more information about the USM School of Social Work, visit usm.edu/social-work.