Mercy Health Launches Human Trafficking Prevention Initiative

The Mercy Health Trauma Recovery Center (TRC) fields referrals every single day for victims of crime — including children. 

Staffed by a team of licensed social workers, clinical counselors and a certified court victim advocate, the Toledo TRC is the only Trauma Recovery Center of its kind in Northwest Ohio. 

The clinic’s certified trauma clinicians have accompanied about 2,000 victims on their healing journeys since its inception in 2018. The outpatient program at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center provides trauma recovery services, clinical case management and advocacy for victims of all ages and their loved ones at no cost. 

Now, thanks to a two-year, $145,000 grant awarded by Gov. Mike DeWine, the TRC is expanding its focus to include education, direct intervention and training to prevent area youth from becoming victims of human trafficking. The grant awarded to Mercy Health is from a collaboration between the Governor’s Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, the Ohio Children’s Trust Fund (OCTF), and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ (ODJFS) Children’s Justice Act Task Force.

“We were excited about this because it allows our team to shift from doing reactive services after a crime or victimization or trauma has happened,” said OraLee Macklenar, TRC supervisor. “It allows us to open up the scope of what we’re doing [with] prevention and training geared toward youth ages 11 to 17. It’s geared toward youth who most at risk for becoming victims of human trafficking.”

Protecting vulnerable youth

Many young people served by the TRC fall into a category that puts them at a higher risk, Macklenar explained. Vulnerable youth include those in the mental health or legal systems, children who are exposed to family violence and kids in foster care. 

Most of these kids have already experienced some kind of trauma, Macklenar explained, and it is essential to address that trauma to prevent them from falling into “more complex layers of victimization.”

The fundamental goals of the initiative are to promote safety, stabilization and engagement for the youth, to restore their faith in humanity and to build their sense of empowerment.

Macklenar noted the TRC uses the OCTF’s Human Trafficking Prevention Youth Curriculum, with services to prevent victimization among at-risk youth that include psychosocial support groups, psychotherapy and case management.

In addition to working directly with youth at its clinic, the TRC has presented the Human Trafficking Prevention Youth Curriculum to young people through a local high school and the Greater Toledo chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Macklenar said the TRC also receives patient referrals from the hospital and many community agencies, including the Victim-Witness Assistance program through the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office.

Recognizing the signs of trafficking

In addition to youth services, the grant covered training for staff members from the TRC and the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office Victim-Witness Assistance program as well as other community professionals to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of human trafficking in minors. 

“We are excited to be partnering with the Mercy Health Toledo Trauma Recovery Center on this initiative,” said Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates. “I think that anything we can do as a collaborative to help at-risk youth in our community we should make every effort to do. This is a community problem and together we can help with solutions, comfort, care and compassion.”

Macklenar related that this training increases the knowledge and awareness of professionals so they can better prevent young people from becoming the next victims. ”I think that it helps all of us that are trained in it to have a better recognition of what might potentially be in front of us,” said Macklenar. 

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