Survivor-Informed Services Among Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs

Human trafficking survivors, of all ages, are the experts of their own experiences. Their experiences can provide a powerful insight on how youth-serving organizations can integrate survivor-informed practices to enlighten services, interventions, as well as decisions impacting young people, especially those who are at higher risk for human trafficking.

Survivor-informed services intentionally seeks the feedback from individuals with lived experience to enhance an organization’s practices. For example, some organizations integrate survivors’ expertise into their program structures through mentor positions, volunteer leadership, Youth Advisory Councils (YACs), or paid staff positions. Programs may also utilize survivor expertise to develop prevention activities, screening approaches, and to create safer spaces for other youth survivors of human trafficking. Incorporating feedback from human trafficking survivors into a program’s structure and service delivery requires some work, but the benefits positively impact program effectiveness. Some of these benefits may include:

  • Structured channels for receiving direct feedback from survivors about programs.
  • Strengthened trust and connections to youth.
  • Insight into enhanced direct outreach strategies for other vulnerable youth.
  • Culturally competent, trauma-informed, and youth oriented approaches.
  • Unique solutions to complex problems faced by young survivors, or those at higher risk of human trafficking.
  • Expanded insight into the effect of trauma on young survivors’ decision making.
  • Survivor empowerment through the provision of leadership opportunities.

This document aims to provide practical survivor informed strategies to support organizations in creating opportunities for survivor feedback, leadership, and integration into youth-serving programs, such as runaway and homeless youth (RHY) programs. RHY settings can create opportunities to elevate the voices and expertise of survivors and utilize their expertise to improve services-delivery. Survivor’s experiences can strengthen the effectiveness, reach, and impact of programs for young people. This survivor informed strategies document focuses on:

  • The creation of leadership opportunities and the building of sustainable structures that facilitate integration of survivor expertise and feedback
  • The importance of identifying when survivors are ready to provide feedback or leadership
  • The value of supporting and meeting the needs of survivors, whether youth or staff, who inform your services or exercise leadership within the organization
  • The significance of managing social dynamics related to integrating young survivors into youth programs

Building and Maintaining Sustainable Leadership Opportunities

Soliciting and incorporating survivor feedback is a continuing process. Survivors have different experiences, ideas, and perspectives on anti-trafficking efforts. Additionally, trends in human trafficking and general changes in youth culture necessitate ongoing feedback. This means that seeking survivor feedback cannot simply involve asking one or two survivors what they think about a program or practice. An effective means of incorporating survivor expertise into youth programs must be ongoing and sustainable.

Survivors should know ahead of time exactly what is asked and expected of them. Opportunities for providing feedback or leadership should be explained clearly, and efforts should be made to recognize and honor the value of the emotional work of trafficking survivors, whether through leadership experience, enhanced skills, or monetary compensation. Organizational capacity and a structure that welcomes survivors as part of your workforce or integrates their feedback into existing programs are important elements that will help to secure positive survivor-informed services.

The following are strategies for creating structures to foster and sustain feedback and leadership opportunities for survivors. It is recommended that organizations consider which of these structures would most benefit their organizations’ work.

I.Youth Advisory Councils

Youth Advisory Councils (YACs) can provide youth-serving organizations with valuable youth perspectives. Typically comprised of 8-10 youth who were previously or are currently enrolled in services (possibly more for larger agencies), YACs advise on the organization’s structure, policy, content, and delivery of youth services. YAC members usually have some knowledge of the organization’s history and a perspective on its mission and services. Organizations should ensure that YAC decisions are heard and have an impact within the organization.

YACs provide youth with the opportunity of changing, redesigning, and expanding the services offered to them and their peers. Survivors can participate in YACs as members or advisors, providing their lived experiences to enhance programs and activities focusing on vulnerable youth. YAC participation, either as a member or advisor, can be an empowering experience for survivors of human trafficking who want to be involved in addressing the intersection of human trafficking and youth homelessness.


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