Safe Harbour NY kicks off in Montgomery County

Child and Family Services Specialist I, Karen Sessions, of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services speaks during a training about Safe Harbour at a meeting of Montgomery County employees and community partners on Tuesday. (Photo submitted)

FONDA — County employees and community partners participated in a Safe Harbour NY kickoff event on Tuesday at the Department of Social Services.

Safe Harbour supports counties in developing their capacity to identify youth who have been trafficked, sexually exploited, or are at risk of victimization. The program also works to meet identified service needs of these youth.

“It’s extremely important that we continue outreach and education on the topic,” county executive Matthew L. Ossenfort said.

“We have to be aware that these incidents can and do exist in small communities like Montgomery County.”

Child and Family Services specialist I Karen Sessions of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services led the training. She provided an overview of the program, discussed outreach opportunities and elicited a discussion among 30 participants. County employees from the Department of Social Services, Sheriff’s Office, Youth and Veterans’ Services and Data Processing were in attendance. Community partners from St. Mary’s Hospital, Catholic Charities, Fulmont Community Action Agency and Danielle’s House also attended.

The county was allocated seed money in 2017 and 2018 to provide awareness campaigns and training around sexually exploited youth and human trafficking. Department of Youth and Veterans’ Services executive director Brenda Rava was responsible for overseeing the funds. She organized initial outreach through billboards, speaking at youth hangouts, and holding Look Beneath the Surface, a free community event at Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The event brought awareness to human trafficking and sexual exploitation of youth and included the powerful story of a survivor of human trafficking.

“Over the past two years we have really opened some eyes to the topic,” Rava said.

In 2019, Montgomery County will transition into its first Safe Harbour program year after receiving a $43,000 grant. The funds will be used to continue education, provide training to relevant professionals , and form a critical team who will continue to increase awareness and education on the topic. DSS will manage the program.

“I’m really impressed with the partners who came today to learn about youth trafficking,” county Department of Social Services commissioner Michael McMahon said. “I hope they will commit to join the critical team.”

COMMENTS