Webinars Can Increase Staff Knowledge of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, Researchers Say

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An Evaluation of a Child Welfare Training Program on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children” (abstract). Jennifer McMahon-Howard, Birthe Reimers. Evaluation and Program Planning, October 2013.

What it’s about: Jennifer McMahon-Howard and Birthe Reimers of Kennesaw State University wanted see how well a 90-minute webinar-based training prepared social services staff to work with young victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Specifically, they wanted to know what staff knew and believed about sexual exploitation before taking the course. For example, did staff view exploited youth as criminals or as victims? The researchers also wanted to know whether participation in the training program improved staff beliefs and knowledge and whether their participation increased referrals for specialized victim services. McMahon-Howard and Reimers partnered with the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services to evaluate the training program, which was developed and delivered by the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

McMahon-Howard and Reimers broke the 123 participants into two groups, treatment and control. Both groups took a test before the training. The treatment group re-took the test after completing the training. The control group did not complete the training until after re-taking the test.

Why read it: Thanks to nationwide efforts to spread awareness of the prevalence youth sex trafficking, youth- and family-serving agencies have begun to train staff to address the problem and to help survivors.  However, few of these training programs have been evaluated for their effectiveness. This study seeks to fill the gap.

Biggest takeaways from the research: McMahon-Howard and Reimers noted that in the pretest, child protective services employees demonstrated the most knowledge (compared to other participants) about how to identify a victim. Protective services staff were less savvy about what laws are in effect to protect and help victims than they were about identifying them.

After participating in the webinar, the entire treatment group knew more than they had before the training about the scope of commercial sexual exploitation, appropriate screening questions for identifying victims, risk factors, laws and services victims need. Neither the treatment nor control groups showed significant change in knowledge of victim behavior or the ability to define and identify commercial sexual exploitation, nor was there a significant change in the number of youth referred for treatment.

In their comments, participants suggested that continued, in-depth training would be helpful, as well as hands-on training. Additionally, some participants asked for training specific to the rural areas in which they work.

Based on the results of their study, McMahon-Howard and Reimers felt that the webinar was effective. They suggest more training programs be evaluated and more social services organizations invest in training staff about commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Additional references: Find abstracts of other literature about human trafficking and sex trafficking in our digital library.

Learn more about and register (free of charge) for the webinar series this study evaluated.

To learn ways to help young victims of trafficking, read “Web Forum Shares Tips on Providing Services to Young Victims of Human Trafficking,” “Research Roundup: Native American Women May Be Vulnerable to Sex Trafficking,” and “Bright Idea: Prevent Trafficking by Reaching out to Transportation and Hospitality Providers.” 

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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