The PSECA team at McMan Youth, Family and Community Services includes Bree McClellan – Community Coordinator, Darcie Gage – Supervisor and Carrie Field – Manager.
About McMan Youth, Family and Community Services:
We are a responsive and innovative organization making a difference in the lives of over 2,500 vulnerable children, youth and families annually. We support youth and families with complex needs that can include mental health issues, addiction, homelessness, poverty, and disability by providing them with the services and supports they need to thrive.
As a fundamental practice across all McMan’s services, we work with clients to help them maintain and grow relationships that can extend beyond our professional support – establishing lifelong connections that can help people sustain and build their strengths and skills.
McMan’s Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (PSECA) program is community-based and has collaborated with Children’s Services since 2002 to provide ongoing support to youth that are 12-24 years old and at risk of, or engaged in, sexual exploitation.
This support occurs through harm reduction, advocacy, relational engagement and authentic goal setting. To be effective in managing these risks, we also create an understanding of the youth’s trauma and vulnerabilities while connecting them to positive lifelong connections that can continue to do the big work of reducing the risk of sexual exploitation in their homes and communities.
We also work in partnership with other community partners to train staff, agencies and youth about PSECA legislation, sexual exploitation of youth and community resources available.
How do you support youth who have been trafficked or are at risk of becoming trafficked?
The PSECA program operates from a trauma informed lens and believes in seeking out and building connections that can support youth throughout their life. There is also a desire to increase the amount of preventative supports being offered to youth and families within Calgary. From this standpoint, we support youth in reducing their risk of being taken advantage of within the community in a multitude of ways.
We focus on harm reduction and community stability by engaging youth in school, building up their natural support network, providing healthy, long-term resources, giving support and attention to their sexual health needs, and setting realistic goals to support youth in feeling safe and successful.
If there was one thing you’d like people to know about human trafficking and sexual exploitation of youth in our country, what would it be?
We want people to understand that sexual exploitation within our city can and does occur even when consent is given. This understanding of exploitation is difficult for people to come to terms with – it’s hard to understand that sexual exploitation exists in situations where it is perceived that youth have consented to activities associated with exploitation, or appear to be saying “yes” to these relationships and requests.
As we continue to learn about the nature of exploitation, we know that youth are saying yes in order to meet other underlying needs such as basic connection and belonging, addiction, shelter, community, etc.
What are some of the challenges you face in supporting youth involved in exploitation?
There is a lack of sustainable resources and programs to provide safety, life skills, shelter, and outreach to this demographic of youth. Without the proper resources and funding, youth facing sexual exploitation encounter daunting waitlists for mental health and trauma support, appear as too “high risk” to access some of our lower risk programs or housing solutions, and often remain in limbo without the proper supports for far too long.
Another challenge is finding other agencies or organizations that provide community outreach for this population. McMan’s PSECA program has consistently provided community outreach to youth for more than 15 years and is currently the only agency providing service of this kind from a community standpoint. With only one person in this role in Calgary and area, we often encounter long waitlists for youth and families attempting to access our program.
What can people do to help?
We encourage people to learn more about sexual exploitation and to be aware of the signs in order to support youth from a preventative lens. It is critical for people to speak up and speak out about sexual exploitation so that we are reducing the stigma around sexual exploitation. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and seek the information needed to properly educate and support children and youth.
What else would you like people to know?
Let’s support families in being proactive – This includes having conversations that support our youth in achieving the independence they require while also maintaining their overall safety and well-being, through social media and while meeting new peers.
Sexual exploitation needs to become a dinner conversation where the people that are caring most about our youth are asking the right questions, allowing space for genuine conversations of risk and praise, and ensuring check-ins are happening at a family level. Through this we will reduce the stigma and shame associated with this issue while empowering families to support our youth.