Aiming to reduce incidents of child trafficking in New Jersey, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Angela McKnight, Annette Chaparro, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to train public school teachers, staff and students to recognize the warning signs and identify victims of child trafficking recently received final legislative approval, passing the Assembly 77-0. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.
“Teachers see and interact with students on a regular basis. So do classmates. If they know what to look for, they can be instrumental in identifying victims and alerting law enforcement,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Increasing awareness can help protect New Jersey’s children.”
The bill (A-1428) would direct the Commissioner of Education to develop and administer a three-year Child Trafficking Awareness Pilot Program to provide school district staff and students in selected school districts with training about the warning signs and risk factors associated with child trafficking and how to prevent it.
“Child trafficking victims are often hiding in plain sight,” said Chaparro (D-Hudson). “Teachers and classmates might notice unusual behaviors, but not recognize them as signs that a child is being trafficked. Training them to recognize the red flags can help identify potential victims in need of help.”
The program would include research-based information that promotes a greater understanding of risk factors that make children more susceptible to becoming a victim of trafficking; recruitment methods of traffickers; the behavioral indicators that a student may be a victim of child trafficking; how to report suspected cases to school administrators and law enforcement; and strategies to prevent children from becoming victims of child trafficking.
“Children spend a significant portion of their time in school. It makes sense to give individuals who are around these students and may notice behavioral changes training so they can differentiate between normal youthful rebellion and something more sinister,” said Chiaravalloti.
“Child trafficking victims experience severe physical, emotional and psychological trauma,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “This training can help teachers identify these signs and symptoms, and properly respond so we can get these children the help they so desperately need. This training not only provides education to teachers and staff but includes students, who can be a valuable ally in this effort.”
Under the bill, the Commissioner would provide pilot districts with a list of resources from established and reliable sources for training teachers, staff, and students, as well as sample school policies and protocols for identifying a suspected victim of child trafficking and responding to a disclosure from a suspected victim. At the end of the program, the commissioner would have to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature on the implementation of the program and the Commissioner’s recommendation on the feasibility of implementing it on a statewide basis.
The measure passed the Senate in March, 38-0.