The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University and ECPAT-USA welcomed 22 federal agencies, state agencies and national nonprofit representatives for a first-of-its-kind discussion on national priorities, actions to protect children and prevention education strategies.

“The trafficking and exploitation of our children is happening in communities across the United States,” said Heather Fischer, Human Trafficking program manager at the McCain Institute. “To safeguard children, we need to go ‘upstream’ and give parents, children and educators information to help them recognize a potentially harmful situation, know what to do and who they can turn to for help. The McCain Institute and ECPAT-USA are pleased to convene key stakeholders to share best practices, identify areas for collaboration and take tangible action steps to advance prevention work. Safeguarding children is an all-hands-on-deck effort, and collaboration is key.”

The participants in the morning roundtable discussed openly existing gaps in national efforts to properly protect children, and it became apparent that a national strategy to prevent human trafficking and exploitation in our communities is greatly needed. Each attendee was fully committed to making such a strategy a reality.

In the afternoon, representatives from federal, state and non-profit agencies from across the country who currently educate youth on human trafficking and exploitation came together to discuss new ways to reach more youth in an effort to stop human trafficking within communities.

“The prevention of sex trafficking has got to be the next priority for our work to protect children,” Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, said. “After so much progress in combatting human trafficking over the years, the one thing we still have left to do is to make sure every child knows how to stay safe, and how to talk to their peers about what trafficking looks like. This convening was the first step to move forward a new national prevention education effort.”

The working group representatives benefited from presentations by leading experts in the field. Stephanie Pacinella, Vice President of the Council on Accreditation, presented on the need for rigorous standards and aligning programs to existing human trafficking standards. Rosie Gomez, Child Welfare Program Specialist with US Health and Human Services and graduate of the McCain Institute Next Generation Leader program, presented on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) paradigm. Madeline Hehir, Anti-Trafficking & Runaway Homeless Youth Services Coordinator from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, presented on collaboration and capacity building.

After individual table discussions, attendees were asked to identify program achievements challenges, collaboration and next steps to take action. As a result, four major takeaways for prevention education came out of this work group:

  • –   Various programs have curricula that are well on their way to being evidence-based.
  • –   Funding and stakeholder buy-in were noted as two main challenges.
  • –   Participants are eager to collaborate with school districts, government agencies, faith-based communities and other nonprofits.
  • –   The United States is ready for a national coalition to prevent child trafficking and exploitation.

“Many of us know where we’ve been successful and where there continue to be challenges in preventing child sex trafficking, but it’s most important that we focus on ways in which we can build on and better address these together,” said Eliza Harrell, director of Education, Training, Prevention and Outreach at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “We identified concrete action steps to do just that – setting the stage for deeper collaboration and coordination across all stakeholder groups, from schools, to non-profit organizations, to government agencies.”

The McCain Institute’s Combatting Human Trafficking team looks forward to working alongside the working group participants to ensure the human trafficking prevention education conversation stays in the forefront nationally.


About the McCain Institute for International Leadership

The McCain Institute, founded in 2012 as part of Arizona State University, is located in the heart of Washington, D.C.  Inspired by the leadership of Senator John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute is a non-partisan, action-tank dedicated to advancing character-driven leadership and civic engagement in the U.S. and abroad. The Institute advances security, economic opportunity, freedom and human dignity.  Learn more at and follow along at #InTheArena