Last month we explored the horrific issue of child trafficking in Oregon and nationwide from the standpoint of the perniciousness of the problem and its effect on the children involved. We talked at length with Executive Director Corey Stark about the action plan undertaken by the nonprofit organization Northwest Giving Hope to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children. (“NWGH: Confronting the Scourge of Child Trafficking”).
Something came up during our discussion that even those somewhat familiar with the societal disgrace that is the crime of child trafficking may not be fully or even partially aware of: the role corporations, specifically but not restricted to healthcare conglomerates, play in the ultimate fates and dispositions of children caught up in this loathsome trade.
Turning his attention away from the children to the corporate hands in which these abandoned, homeless, and often troubled kids are placed, Stark doesn’t mince words.
“Anytime you have a profit-focused conglomerate handling the care of a child who for whatever reason has been awarded to the state, you’ve got the potential for a less than optimal outcome,” says Stark.
Stark explains that if the concerns of those at the top are profit-driven and not primarily about rehabilitation, therapeutic restoration, and a commitment to the quality of each individual child’s wellness, the decision-making and resolutions affecting children who have fallen through the cracks is often inadequate and fails to meet the needs of these children.
Stark unflinchingly drives his message home: “Quite literally, if your model is to profit from care given to a human being, and you make less money the healthier each child becomes…well, you do the math.”
Part of his mission is to inform and educate not only the general public, but also professionals in the field, and families who may be caught up in or victimized by traffickers, that nonprofits like NWGH have a better way.
The alarming fact of the matter, as spelled out by Stark in an email to the NWC, is that the overwhelming majority of children who are abandoned or who are runaways living on the street are approached by nefarious and immoral representatives of the sex industry. These confused kids, often estranged from home and family, are exploited in the most unimaginably depraved ways.
Where do the corporations come in?
According to Stark, children that are “rescued” from the streets and/or from traffickers and then come under the jurisdiction of the state are often “farmed-out” to large corporate-run healthcare companies.
Stark has the latest stats: “One year ago, three such companies received 86 Oregon children, distributed across 21 facilities and 13 states.” (Arcadia Healthcare: 10 Oregon clients; Universal Health Services: 2 Oregon clients; Sequel Youth & Family Services: 74 Oregon clients.)
Asked point-blank if the problem of child trafficking is so widespread that the services of such corporations are necessary, Stark answers unequivocally, “No.”
“The facilities provided by these corporations are nothing more than institutionalized farms for hedge fund and other investment strategies, with the end goal of making a profit.”
Asked whether these companies have positioned themselves as the “easy answer” for these forgotten children, again, Stark lays it on the line:
“Easy money is more accurate. These corporations are profiting shareholders being awarded with taxpayer dollars for providing a guaranteed pipeline of children.”
Stark explains how Oregon, for example, assigns a number and dollar amount for each child in state custody, then often consigns them to distant, poorly-administered and loosely-regulated care.
Inevitably, says Stark, (and this is where the corporate model often proves inadequate) “in the child’s mind/psyche they’ve, by definition, been ‘trafficked’ by Oregon across state lines, for money.”
Inadequate treatment often leads to a relapse into self-defeating behaviors and renders previously-trafficked children susceptible to renewed substance abuse and sexual exploitation.
Enter Northwest Giving Hope, and other such organizations. Stark contrasts his nonprofit’s approach to that of the corporate model.
“We’re offering independent behavioral residential programs like the House of Hope (profiled in the August NWC installment) that provide a higher level of individualized care to each child, offering them the best opportunity to come away from the trafficking world with the sense of hope for the future.”
Starks vows that every child that NWGH can house, or find loving supportive environments for, will be cared for individually and with no regard for whatever price has been placed on them based on what he calls the “greed of a boardroom.”
“We want to keep these kids in Oregon,” he says. “We want our local communities, our awesome Oregonian people, to come together and offer healing homes and hope for our children. Northwest Giving Hope homes will be built and administered based on our foundational values of hope, healing, emotional well-being, safety, security, love, and belonging.”
In closing, Stark offers a final thought: “This problem is not just going to go away. Unfortunately, the state of Oregon believes farming children out to others makes more financial sense and is a better solution than embracing the healing powers of the good and caring people in our local communities.”
For more information or to contribute to the cause, contact Corey Stark directly at 503-898-9382 or firstname.lastname@example.org