AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – “The secretive nature of trafficking makes it hard,” said Dr. Aronica Gloster, Director of Student Services, Richmond County School System.
Hard to identify a student who is a victim. It’s a challenge many school systems face, especially in Richmond County where Dr. Aronica Gloster is the Director of Student Services. That county has the highest number of possible child trafficking victims in all of Georgia. So I went looking to see what’s being done to help these kids.
“What we have done in recent years is really try to bolster awareness,” said Dr. Gloster.
She says they do this several ways. Richmond County investigators will talk to staff members about what to look for in a victim and they teach a mandated state program so staff members know how to teach students, to make everybody aware.
“We implement a curriculum for our students in elementary, middle and high school that helps them to just be aware of how they can keep themselves safe and some of the dangers that are lurking,” said Dr. Gloster.
In Columbia County, the school system hired a district-wide training officer who started this year. In addition to security and safety training, he’s also training staff on student behavior.
“A teacher can have the most impact on a student, but if they notice a student’s being something different…’who do I report that to? And what am I looking for?’ ” said Police Chief Gary Owens, Columbia County School District.
The district’s police Chief, Gary Owens says that new hire is their way of taking a proactive, instead reactive, approach.
“We do a lot of partnerships with Columbia County Connections, with the District Attorney’s Office, with the Juvenile. So working together as a collaborative. And all of us working together with the district trainer, so we all put out the same information,” said Chief Owens.
And information really is key when it comes to tracking students.
Kari Viola-Brooke knows this all too well. She’s the executive Director of Child Enrichment, a non-profit that provides services to abused children in 9 counties in our area.
“If we’re looking at child trafficking, a lot of the kids, big red flag for that is truancy. Not going to school, running away,” said Kari Viola-Brooke, Executive Director of Child Enrichment, Inc.
Here’s how truancy numbers look in some of our school systems.
After 10 unexcused absences in Richmond County, a student is referred to CHINS (Children in Need of Services).
Last year’s numbers are embargoed.
In Columbia County, 10 is also the number before a student is referred to Juvenile Court.
Last year’s numbers are also not available.
Aiken County’s threshold is 3 consecutive unexcused absences or 5 non-consecutive.
Last year they had 4,585 cases with most resolved after meeting with the parents.
“We need to really work with the schools to identify these kids so then we can start building that relationship with the kid, building their trust, with them and trying to get them out of this situation. It is a slow process,” said Viola-Brooke.
Raising a child isn’t easy, it takes work. And in today’s world it also takes a lot of work to protect them.
“The onus is on us, the school system as well as parents, families, and other community organizations. And as we continue to rally together I know that we can make a positive difference,” said Dr. Gloster.
TUNE IN NEXT WEEK (Tuesday, October 10th): Barclay will share how a judge in Augusta is using her courtroom to help victims, and the shocking reality of how easily THEY can be turned into traffickers as well.
Columbia County School District Upcoming Community Forums:
Each forum is from 6pm -7:15pm at the following locations on the following dates:
- October 19, 2023 at Grovetown High School
- November 16, 2023, at Evans High School
- February 22, 2024, at Harlem High School
- March 21, 2024, at Lakeside High School
Each forum will include topics on School safety, bullying, and gang and drug prevention.
How are area school systems training staff/faculty to identify possible child trafficking victims?
Richmond County School System:
We offer a number of opportunities for our staff to train on child sex trafficking. Our school resources officers attend meetings with Child Advocacy Centers of Georgia Commercial Sex Exploitation of Children and the Augusta University’s Sexual Assault and Response Team. Our school and mental health counselors, nurses, psychologists, social workers and multi-tiered systems of support facilitators will participate in a training on October 5 led by Child Enrichment. In the past, Darkness to Light has conducted training sessions for school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.
For the past two years, school leaders and central office staff participated in annual presentations from Terry Gore and Child Enrichment. School leaders have invited those agencies to conduct trainings at their schools.
*Prior to the pandemic, mental health counselors and multi-tiered systems of support facilitators were not RCSS staff positions.
Columbia County School System:
As mandated reporters, Columbia County School District staff are required to participate in annual training on how to identify and report signs of child abuse or mistreatment. Additionally, the Columbia County School District’s Gang Task Force Officer and District Safety Training Officer are in active collaboration with local law enforcement agencies to incorporate educational opportunities for staff on additional topics such as identifying trafficking scenarios and how to respond. Furthermore, educational forums for the public, underway this year, are designed to provide education and resources for students and parents on school safety, bullying, as well as gang and drug use prevention. Safety is a shared responsibility. While many of these troubling issues facing youth are recognized nationwide, efforts to educate all stakeholders, including staff, will help ensure that we can work together to continue to provide a safe, positive environment for students, staff, and their families, here in the Columbia County School District.
Aiken County School System:
All teachers, administrators, counselors, and nurses are mandated reporters. What this means is that if a teacher, administrator, counselor or school nurse has reason to believe that a student is being abused or neglected, they are obligated, by law, to report the concern to either law enforcement or the Department of Social Services. Once reported, the appropriate authority is required to investigate and take measures that may be necessary to protect the child.
Additionally, all Aiken County Public Schools provide age-appropriate sexual abuse and sexual assault prevention education as is required of all schools in South Carolina through “Erin’s Law.”
Burke County School System:
The topic of child trafficking is addressed in our annual Mandated Reporter Training through ProSolutions Online Training. EVERY BCPS employee is required to complete this training at the beginning of each school year. We also have School Resource Officers in each of our schools who are trained to recognize signs and report child trafficking cases to the Criminal Investigation Division, (CID)
Bamberg County School System:
Bamberg County School District provides professional development training to all staff in the district through Safe Schools relative to mandatory reporting and to the health and welfare of all students, which includes child trafficking. The district also employs a full time social worker who engages with students and families throughout the district, and we work very closely with local law enforcement agencies and the South Carolina Department of Social Services to identify potential victims of any/all child abuse or neglect situations including child trafficking.
McCormick County School System:
We have created a social-emotional coalition that meets every other week, or as often as needed, to monitor our students’ social and emotional needs. This communication ensures we stay abreast of what is occurring in our students’ lives.
We also administer a social/emotional screener SAEBRS (Social, Academic, Emotional, Behavior, Risk Screener) three times a year. The assessments will identify students at high risk and need immediate assistance.
Additionally, our school counselors are visible and conduct classroom visits on a frequent basis.
Lastly, our teachers hold morning meetings with their homeroom class to check in on students. This gives the teachers a pulse of how students are doing overall before the instructional day begins.
McDuffie County School System:
Part of our enrollment process includes verifying residency as well as other documentation (immunization, vision, hearing, dental, and social security number) before students can start in our system. Here are links to our policies on that: Board Policy JBC: School Admissions, and Regulation JBC-R(1): School Admissions – JBC-R. Someone attempting to enroll a trafficked child in our district would likely not have documentation to this extent, so it is an opportunity for us to catch those red flags. There are a couple of things we do in the way of training staff. We make this Human Sex Trafficking – Fact Sheet from the Georgia Department of Education available so that staff members know the information on the topic important to the state government. We also have video training modules from Vector Solutions on a variety of topics for all staff, and one of the modules is titled “Human Trafficking Awareness.”
Jefferson County School System:
We do not specifically train staff in human trafficking per say, but it is included in our mandated reporting training. Students in grades 6-12 learn about human trafficking in health classaes. Counselors are aware of what to look for as well, and that is another layer of support for students and teachers. We stress ‘see something say something’ in all schools which lends itself to all sorts of protection including trafficking.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, CALL 911
If you’re a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation:National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)
NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week
Submit a tip online: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/en/report-trafficking
To report trafficking in Georgia Call: 1-866-END-HTGA
*Press Option #1 to report a tip to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI)
*Press Option #2 to report a child sex trafficking case directly
*Press Option #3 if you’re an adult requesting assistance from a trafficking situation
South Carolina 2022 Annual Report: Human Trafficking Task Force