To determine if the New York City Administration for Children’s Services and the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development identify, report on, and provide services for victims of child sex trafficking and those at risk of child sex trafficking. The audit covered the period from January 2017 through January 2022 for ACS and from January 2017 through September 2021 for DYCD.
About the Program
Children and youth1 are among society’s most valuable resources. However, because of psychological, economic, and/or social factors, they could become victims of sexual exploitation. Reliable data on the commercial sexual exploitation of children does not exist because of the underground (in-the-shadows) nature of this crime. However, a 2016 white paper by The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research – University of Pennsylvania estimated that between 100,000 and 500,000 children are sexually exploited or at risk of sexual exploitation annually in the United States. New York City (NYC) reported an average of just 2,249 such children each year for the 4-year period of January 2017 through December 2020.
In September 2008, the Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act (Safe Harbour) was signed into law in New York State. It became effective in 2010, making New York the first state in the nation to recognize sexually exploited minors as victims and not perpetrators of crimes.
In 2014, the U.S. Congress enacted the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, which requires the screening of children within the child welfare system for potential sex trafficking and the timely reporting of sex trafficking incidents to law enforcement. It also requires data collection on sex-trafficked and at-risk youth. In 2015, the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) issued Administrative Directive 15-OCFS-ADM-16: Requirements to Identify, Document, Report and Provide Services to Child Sex Trafficking Victims. This Administrative Directive assists Local Departments of Social Services, including the NYC Administration for Children Services (ACS) – which is overseen by OCFS – and voluntary agencies, on how to identify, report on, and provide services to exploited children.
In 2013, OCFS began allocating Safe Harbour funds annually to certain counties – $1.6 million in 2013, $1.7 million in 2014, and $3 million in 2015 to 2020 – to leverage and strengthen existing systems and to create a more effective and efficient response to youth who have experienced or are vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation or trafficking. The annual funding was reduced to $2 million in 2021. ACS was selected to plan and distribute these funds in NYC, and until 2020 provided some of the funds to the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) for developing and providing services to sexually exploited youth. DYCD contracts with community-based organizations (providers) to provide various youth welfare services, such as after-school and employment programs, school-based community centers, and runaway and homeless youth services.
Local Law 41 (LL41) of 2016 requires DYCD and ACS to submit an annual report to the Speaker of the NYC Council documenting the number of youth in contact with DYCD and ACS who are referred as, who self-report as, or who DYCD or ACS later determines to be sexually exploited children.
1An individual younger than 18 years is considered a child; an individual younger than 24 years is considered a youth.
- ACS officials failed to support that they ensured staff and providers screened children to identify sex-trafficked victims or at-risk youth. Consequently, ACS staff and/or providers failed to support that they had completed 473,675 (or 69%) of 685,126 required screenings from February 15, 2017 through December 31, 2020.
- We found that DYCD does not have procedures requiring its providers to screen youth for indicators of trafficking.
- We found deficiencies in both agencies’ oversight of their staff’s and providers’ completion of mandatory training topics. According to documentation provided by both agencies, approximately 80% of ACS staff did not complete the training on sex trafficking within the required timeframes. In addition, DYCD officials did not ensure that all funded staff at its contracted providers completed recommended training on Sexual Exploitation Awareness.
- ACS and DYCD officials did not provide support for the total number of sex-trafficked victims or at-risk youth reported under LL 41 between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2020.
- ACS and DYCD officials did not provide records to show that the sex-trafficked and at-risk youth they identified had received adequate services, such as safe housing and medical, mental health, legal, educational, and/or vocational assistance.
- Enforce ACS’ child screening policies and procedures, thereby ensuring staff and providers screen youth under its supervision, as required.
- Document and enforce procedures to ensure staff and providers comply with Administrative Directive 15-OCFS-ADM-16 and are adequately trained to identify, report on, and provide services to sex-trafficked and at-risk youth.
- Work with OCFS, DYCD, and other stakeholders to conduct a needs assessment to determine if strategies and resources are being used effectively and efficiently to identify and mitigate the impact of child sexual exploitation in NYC.
- Develop and enforce written policies and procedures to ensure staff and providers are adequately trained to identify, report on, and provide services to sex-trafficked victims. Periodically review training materials to ensure required topics meet DYCD’s standards. Document outcomes of DYCD’s reviews.
- Establish and enforce written procedures for providers to screen youth for indicators of trafficking.
- Collaborate with ACS and other stakeholders to reassess the process for gathering data and completing the LL41 annual reports. Make changes to improve the clarity and accuracy of the reports, as appropriate.
State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director:Kenrick Sifontes
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236