Kingston, NY- Ulster County Executive Mike Hein and Social Services Commissioner Michael Iapoce announced Ulster County’s inclusion in the New York State Office of Children and Family Services Safe Harbour Initiative. As part of a statewide commitment to respond to youth trafficking in New York, the Ulster County Department of Social Services was awarded a $100,000 Safe Harbour grant in 2015 and $120,000 in 2016.
New York’s “Safe Harbour for Exploited Children Act” was the first law in the nation recognizing that youth below the age of 18 who have been subjected to commercial sexual exploitation are victims of trafficking, not perpetrators of crime. Safe Harbour laws also pertain to child labor trafficking. While there is no single profile for trafficked victims, those who are particularly vulnerable are runaway and homeless youth, youth in foster care, transgender youth, gender non-conforming youth, foreign nationals, and those who have experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Michael P. Hein, Ulster County Executive
“Ulster County understands the importance of the Safe Harbor Program,” said County Executive Mike Hein. “This program protects some of the most vulnerable members of society: victims of abuse, children, and runaways. We cannot afford to let victims of trafficking slip between the cracks. This program is about providing help and bringing justice to the victims. We are working collaboratively with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, Social Services providers and County, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies to achieve the goals of this important initiative.”
Michael Iapoce, Ulster County Commissioner of Social Services
“It is imperative that we recognize commercial sexual exploitation and labor trafficking of children as child welfare issues, not criminal justice issues,” said Mike Iapoce, Commissioner for the Ulster County Department of Social Services. “As a child welfare agency, the Ulster County Department of Social Services is on the front lines of various changes that involve developing new policies and procedures for identifying and serving vulnerable youth that are at-risk or currently being trafficked.”
Leading the efforts to create a coordinated community response to youth trafficking in Ulster County is a Critical Team comprised of staff from the Department of Social Services (DSS), Coordinated Children’s Services, the Family and Child Advocacy Center, Family of Woodstock, the Crime Victims Assistance Program, Probation, and the District and County Attorneys offices. Efforts have been underway since May of 2015 with grant funds allocated towards community awareness, public education, and recognition and prevention trainings for social service providers, law enforcement, legal and health care professionals and our school districts.
Services available to youth under Safe Harbour include safe, long-term housing, medical and psychological care, transportation, legal advocacy, educational and vocational counseling, and life skills. DSS has contracted with Family of Woodstock to provide outreach and case management services to at-risk and trafficked youth and Crime Victims Assistance Program continues to be a valuable resource with its 24-hour hotline, crisis counseling, referral, and advocacy services.
Ulster County’s Safe Harbour program ran its billboard campaign from December of 2015 through March of 2016 to raise awareness that youth trafficking is a problem in New York State while also reaching community members who can help identify and report suspicious activity. Trafficked youth who may be unaware that help is available were an additional focus of the campaign.
As awareness, education, training, and outreach efforts continue, the Safe Harbour Program anticipates an increase in the identification of at-risk and trafficked youth. With newly developed protocols and a coordinated community response in place, Ulster County is prepared to reach their ultimate goal of providing comprehensive services to prevent youth trafficking and address the needs of survivors.
For further information about Ulster County's Safe Harbour Program, please contact: Jackie Arsenuk, Safe Harbour Coordinator at Ulster County DSS at 845-340-3927 or email ulster.safeharbour@gmail. If you identify a youth who is being trafficked or is at risk, please contact: FAMILY of Woodstock Hotline 845-338-2370.