There is widespread agreement among nationwide child advocates that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an increase in child maltreatment and child abuse. This combination has placed children at a greater risk for human trafficking. Two Master of Social Work students recently gained valuable experience in creating an online survey for the South Carolina Human Trafficking Task Force 2020 Annual Report from the Office of the South Carolina Attorney General.
Ashley Ghent and Melissa Johnson were members of the MSW student evaluation team for the task force. Their work was part of an assignment for Associate Professor Aidyn Iachini’s Evaluation of Social Work Programs course. Ghent and Johnson each ranked the South Carolina Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force as their preferred agency to partner with.
According to the task force’s report, their partnership with the College of Social Work’s MSW program was intended to design and disseminate a survey examining the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on 57 service providers. The survey intended to capture trends in human trafficking victimization, changes to service provision due to the pandemic, and additional information on demographic trends of victims and survivors.
“During a virtual meeting with a representative from the Human Trafficking Task Force, Melissa and I gathered information about their goals and objectives for our evaluation and research,” Ghent says. “We worked together to develop appropriate questions to incorporate in our survey and answer the research questions, ‘How are service providers adapting to how services are delivered during COVID-19,’ and ‘Are providers seeing any changes regarding trafficking?’”
The survey results found that 44% of service providers reported an increased need of services to support victims and survivors of sex trafficking due to COVID-19. That same percentage also reported an increase in victims and survivors of related forms of abuse, such as domestic violence or child abuse.
According to Ghent, the experience taught her more about task groups, the impacts of COVID-19, and working with a community partner. Her experiences also helped her better understand the importance of evaluation.
“I learned about how different evaluation processes can be implemented in a variety of settings and accomplish different goals,” Ghent says. “I also understand the role of program evaluation in interventions and strategies being evidence based. Without the evaluation process, it would be difficult for people to know if a certain strategy is backed by evidence. This impacts social work practice through the importance of social workers selecting appropriate evidence supported strategies and interventions.”
Ghent is also appreciative of the opportunity to work with a collaborative team and a community partner.
“Communicating virtually with a collaborative team was challenging at times, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ghent says. “This method creates challenges because I personally believe it’s easier for information to be misconstrued or misinterpreted. But working on this collaborative team has taught me the importance of getting different ideas and perspectives, having teammates proofread work, and how much more can be accomplished with multiple people working on a project.”
In addition, meeting (virtually) frequently with our community partner was useful in making sure our project was aligning with their needs and goals, to clarify any uncertainties, and provide updates throughout the entire process. Both sides also learned from each other throughout the entire evaluation process project.”