Published in the Hartford Courant on January 14, 2019

By Denise Coffey

“Not a Number,” a youth human trafficking and exploitation prevention program, will be offered to 150 10th grade students in Plainfield this year.

Licensed and specially trained clinicians with the United Community and Family Services will lead the sessions, thanks to a $3,890 grant from the Northeast Women and Girls Fund.

The five-module curriculum was designed to teach youth how to protect themselves from human trafficking and exploitation through information, critical thinking, and skill development. Clinicians will cover a host of subjects, including red flags and relationships, reducing risky behavior, and learning how to access community resources.

It’s all about raising awareness, recognizing recruitment tactics, challenging stereotypes, and identifying healthy support systems, according to UCFS Vice President Debery Hinchey.

“It talks about how kids respect themselves, how they look at their individual strengths, what their relationships are, and some of the pressures they face,” she said. “It takes a holistic view and looks at how we can address vulnerabilities created by social media and the things kids face today.”

The curriculum was created by Love146, an international human rights organization. It was developed for male and female youth between the ages of 12 and 18. Piloted in Connecticut, Florida, and Texas, the program has been given to 2,500 youth in schools, residential programs, and juvenile justice agencies.

Hinchey said the curriculum pays particular attention to social media and internet use.

“Kids become involved in trafficking because they are vulnerable,” she said.

The curriculum addresses issues of self esteem, what messages people are getting through social media, and how those messages play on a person’s vulnerabilities.

Adolescents experiencing poverty, family dysfunction, and homelessness are particularly vulnerable.

“Trafficking happens,” Hinchey said. “There are people looking for these adolescents. This program targets prevention."

The program aims to help students develop critical thinking and skill development. It’s an adjunct to any guidance they receive in high school, Hinchey said.

And schools are a logical place through which the curriculum is distributed. School authorities are more likely to learn of victimization experiences than any other authority, according to a national survey of children’s exposure to violence.

The Northeast Connecticut Women and Girls Fund is part of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. The fund awarded $14,095 in grants to eight nonprofits in December 2018.

For more information on the Community Foundations's Women & Girls Funds, click here

For more information on the prevention program, click here