Since the very first class at AnnieCannons, we have discussed the problems facing human trafficking survivors. Every time, one issue has come up over and over: significant gaps in the continuum of care – the services and assistance needed for a survivor to successfully leave behind their situation of exploitation and become completely independent.
The first challenge facing many survivors is being asked to personally call a long list of providers to see if they qualify for support. Imagine having to tell your traumatic story over and over again, and potentially being disappointed at the end of each call. Others have needed to hack the system in order to actually get what they need, and feel compelled to share that with others to save them from the same pain and re-traumatization. Even more have found providers who claim to offer services, especially mental healthcare, but discovered down the road that those services are not readily available, or are not provided by someone actually qualified to offer those services. According to our students from the Bay Area, they have been in and out of three to seven shelters before joining our program and finally finding their way to financial independence.
These experiences are usually not due to negligence or ill-will, rather they are the result of providers and nonprofits who are struggling to find the funds to continue to operate and provide the services they know are desperately needed. This struggle is especially noticed in the Bay Area where AnnieCannons’ students live. The cost of living and high housing costs lead to a greater need for service providers and nonprofits to raise funding simply to provide a shelter. People financially supporting a shelter often expect other pieces of the continuum of care to be provided as well, such as case management. Added to those expectations are difficult and often nonsensical grant reporting requirements that take time away from serving humans to meet criteria regarding data handling and collection practices, especially for government grants.
There are groups that have created case management applications intended to assist case managers, shelters, and others involved in the continuum of care to better track their data and manage those who benefit. Given the number of locations that Bay Area shelters have to enter data already, these tools often go unutilized. Additionally, these applications are designed to track one person at one facility, falling short of tracking them if they receive other services at other organizations, or how effective those services are.
Difficulties also arise when referring a survivor along the continuum of care to other groups and organizations that can provide assistance. There are consent and confidentiality concerns in telling another organization about a person and their history, with no good way of recording a survivor’s consent to share information other than a paper form. In fact, one executive director stated that we would save her staff a significant amount of time if we could simply automate the printing of directions and contact information to go along with a referral.
With the support of the Chintu Gudiya Foundation, AnnieCannons is now working with Tech4Dev, conducting thorough product research to design a technology solution that puts the survivor at the heart of the design process. Our experience with survivors has made it exceptionally clear to us that the variety of issues surrounding the successful application of technology to close the gaps in the continuum of care, from start to finish, require a focus on the survivor. A survivor-centered solution will solve the concerns over privacy and confidentiality and provide full feedback loops and impact reporting about the success rate of services received. It will go even further to protect the survivor from re-trafficking and monitored phones, and provide an effective way to handle referrals and avoid re-traumatization.
While we are gathering project data and working to provide solutions, we will be consulting with a select group of Bay Area case management and housing providers to discuss their pain points and core needs in using technology. By analyzing the technologies they use and discussing anyl tools they may not yet be utilizing, we hope to better understand the gaps and needs in the area to create the best solution possible and put it to work for survivors.
If you are a Bay Area shelter or case management provider and you would like to consult with us about your technology, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue to post here about the process of our research and discoveries.