ILLINOIS (WCIA) — January is Human Trafficking awareness month, and while some may think human trafficking is only an international issue, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is working to improve awareness and prevention in Illinois.

“Human trafficking is not something that only happens to adults in other countries; it occurs every day across Illinois to children whose average age is 14,” said Illinois DCFS Director Marc D. Smith. “Youth in care and those living in congregate care facilities are especially vulnerable, and providing this training to staff who care for our children in these settings is one more step we can take to ensure their safety.”

DCFS is partnering with The Power Project to train group home and residential care facility staff across Illinois on how to identify, intervene and prevent human trafficking among their youth in treatment. Nearly 1,000 care staff in 37 facilities across Illinois completed Commercial Sexual Exploitation 101 training in 2022.

“As a former youth in care, I realize that I could have very easily become a victim of human trafficking when I was younger, and now it’s my passion to look for ways to prevent youth from being trafficked in the first place,” said The Power Project Founder and CEO Mieko Taylor. “It is so much easier to keep a kid from being broken, rather than trying to put them back together.”

DCFS said victims of human trafficking often do not seek help because they are fearful, ashamed of their situation, distrust law enforcement or become dependent on the perpetrator.

DCFS shared common signs to be aware of the situation. They said a trafficked child might:

  • Have an adult control them by speaking for them.
  • Seem out of place given the time of day or night.
  • Look disheveled or dressed in clothes that they could not afford to buy.
  • Show signs of physical abuse such as bruising or red marks.
  • Not possess any form of identification.
  • Perform inappropriate work for their age and not be compensated.

DCFS partners with three agencies to provide support and services to youth who have been trafficked or are at risk of it. These include Chicago’s ReClaim13, Hoyleton’s HALO (Healing and Loving Oneself) program, and Selah Freedom.

They also maintain strong partnerships with the FBI, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, the Chicago Police Department, and the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center.

Anyone who believes a child might be trafficked, or in danger of being trafficked, should immediately call 911 and the DCFS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873).