WHITBY – The Ontario government is investing $11.5 million over three years in two specialized intervention teams in Durham Region and the City of Toronto to protect children and youth from sex trafficking. The new Children at Risk of Exploitation (CARE) Units pair child protection workers with police officers on the frontlines to identify and locate children and youth who are being sex trafficked, connect victims and families to services, and investigate and hold offenders accountable. This innovative approach to prevention and early intervention is part of the province’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy and is a first for Ontario.
“Protecting children and youth, especially those within the child welfare system, is vital in our work to fighting human trafficking across the province,” said Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues. “These new CARE Units will be dedicated to finding children who are at high risk of trafficking and protecting them from further victimization. This is another strong action our government is taking to keep children and youth safe from this horrific crime.”
The Durham and Toronto CARE Units will work closely with local anti-human trafficking service providers, as well as with the province’s newly opened dedicated residences for child and youth victims of human trafficking in each region. Building on strong partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children’s aid societies, Indigenous Liaison Workers in each CARE Unit will help ensure interventions involving Indigenous children and youth are culturally responsive, safe and respectful.
“Today’s announcement further underlines our government’s commitment to end human trafficking and reinforces our pledge to build awareness, protect victims, provide support for survivors and hold offenders accountable,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “With the combined expertise of police services, child protection workers and key community partners in Durham and Toronto, these new CARE Units will provide additional, much-needed resources in our fight against this heinous crime.”
Ontario’s CARE Units model was developed in consultation with partners in each region. The Durham Region CARE Unit is a partnership between Durham Children’s Aid Society, Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child & Family Services and Durham Regional Police Service. The Toronto CARE Unit partners are Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and Toronto Police Service, with the support of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Jewish Family and Child Service. Another CARE Unit is planned to launch in 2023-24.
“In research and literature on human trafficking in Canada, it is acknowledged that Indigenous women and girls are overrepresented as survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The root causes of this exploitation include pervasive racist and sexist stereotypes, ongoing marginalization and the normalization of colonial violence. It is alarming to note that while Indigenous women only make up four per cent of the Canadian population, they roughly make up 50 per cent of the trafficking victims. Honouring their voice and recognizing the expertise of Indigenous survivors will help to build a knowledge base to address and ultimately combat human trafficking,” said Amber Crowe, Executive Director, Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child & Family Services.
In addition to playing a key part in Ontario’s Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy, CARE Units are also an example of how the Ontario government is transforming the child and family services sector, with a focus on strengthening families and communities through prevention and early intervention services that are responsive, high quality and culturally appropriate to better serve those in need.