In the 2018 Children’s Network Congregate Care Needs Assessment for the County of San Bernardino, it was reported that there was a gap in the bed availability and specialized services for female foster youth who are victims or are at risk of sex trafficking. Often, foster youth who have been identified as commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) end up in locked residential facilities that remove them farther away from their support system. Magdalena’s Daughters is a non-profit organization founded in 2018 that works to alleviate this crisis.
The organization, headed by therapist Ashley Hill, boasts an audacious goal: to reduce the rate of sex trafficking among foster youth and increase healthy relationships and quality of living for female foster youth between the ages of twelve and eighteen. The organization’s strategy is to provide a family-oriented environment for foster youth in order to create a sense of consistency. This sense of consistency is important, especially for foster youth who have been placed in different homes for many years. This family environment creates a valuable support system for youth, helping them develop healthy relationships with others as they grow into adulthood. As these youth become adults, they will need guidance on suitable careers to unlock their potential as productive members of society. Magdalena’s Daughters will provide guidance on various career paths and entrepreneurship opportunities, encourage creativity, teach them life skills, and prioritize their needs in treatment.
The organization aims to tackle the population’s housing problem within the county by providing housing and increasing bed availability in the next few years. Magdalena’s Daughters also aims to provide intensive therapeutic services for female foster youth to help them heal from the trauma they have endured and create a sense of safety by physically protecting youth and teaching them safety skills to prevent future victimization.
Founder Ashley Hill established the organization based on her strong belief that foster youth need family, protection, and hope for the future. “Foster youth are one of the most vulnerable populations for sex trafficking. Our objective is to stop sexual exploitation and help these young women heal from the trauma and displaced family foundation that often leads to their victimization in the first place,” she explained.
Ashley Hill is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked with foster youth for five years. She is also a state-certified human trafficking advocate. Ashley’s track record proves her passion for improving the lives of foster youth. She has provided case management and therapeutic services for foster youth in group homes and foster homes and has also worked closely with Children and Family Services and advocated for foster youth to receive the best services available to them. She has experience conducting mental health chart audits for various group homes to ensure their mental health programs meet state requirements. Ashley also has had clients who were victims of sex trafficking and witnessed firsthand how youth would become victims of the vicious cycle of sexual exploitation.
The organization’s role in protecting young women and children from sex trafficking has only become more relevant amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the United Nations, the pandemic has increased children’s online activity, which may make them more susceptible to grooming by traffickers. The devastating economic effects of the pandemic means that many vulnerable people have lost their source of income and might be desperate enough to go out on the streets to find money and food.
Magdalena’s Daughters is raising funding for a pilot study and providing more education to the community. Studies need to be conducted to show how human trafficking affects the foster youth population. Results from this research will inform and guide the structure and model of the program and homes.