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Stop Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

“This project was supported by Grant #2017-MC-FX-K051 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.” 

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"Shining Light on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A Toolkit to Build Understanding" is a toolkit designed to be a resource for multidisciplinary professionals, policy makers, volunteers, faith communities, and others involved in anti-trafficking work. While the information provided on each topic is in no way exhaustive, you will find additional resources to facilitate further study. Each topic is addressed in three sections: First, the “what?”– what we know about the topic which includes a review of what we know from both research and the field. “So what?” addresses what this means – the reason this information is important to understand and how it will enhance our response to trafficking. “Now what?” considers the implications of this information in practice - how the information can be used to enhance our response to human trafficking. This includes specific implications for mentoring relationships, when applicable.  


Sustainability addresses how organizations can effectively adapt to changing environments (i.e. staff turnover, funding and policy changes, new community needs, etc.) in order to maintain consistent, quality services.1 Putting time and energy into sustainability is essential if social service agencies are to create lasting benefits for the community. Neglecting to foster sustainability can result in a loss of programs and services deeply needed by the community.  These losses, and the resulting staff turnover, often make it difficult to pass on knowledge and program learnings gained even if services are restored in the future.   Sustainability is critical for organizations to maintain their results and impacts beyond their initial sources of funding to continue meeting the needs of the communities they serve. A key factor of sustainability is strategic planning. Strategic planning is “ongoing planning for renewing implementation.”1 Strategic planning aims to outline the goals and direction of the program, and should evolve as the program develops.1,2,3  For organizations providing mentoring services for youth victims/survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, this may include reviewing mentor/mentee evaluations, assessing community needs, reviewing benchmarks, identifying funding needs and resources, addressing any gaps or concerns, and identifying areas where adaptation is needed. When creating a strategic plan, there are a few important considerations:

  • Evaluation is a key component of strategic planning. Evaluations assess the outcomes of the program and provide decision makers with information about needed modifications.4,5
  • Funding should be considered during strategic planning. Staff and stakeholders should be challenged to think about what support is needed to maintain present programs and meet future goals.5
  • Consider changing landscapes while doing strategic planning. For a mentoring program serving victims/survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, this may involve assessing current or future changes in legislation, youth demographics, or service needs, for example.

In addition to strategic planning, effective collaboration with other community organizations helps foster sustainability. It is important to identify agencies and organizations that are positively impacting the community and seek mutually beneficial partnerships. Consider non-traditional partnerships (outside of your direct service area) that may be able to enhance your work.1,5,6

  • Community resources such as schools, health clinics, recreation facilities, and faith-based groups that may not connect with your work directly, but could support in other ways, such as generating volunteer referrals or providing an in-kind resource. When community members and other stakeholders feel invested in a program, that program is more successful.4
  • Being effective advocates and messengers about the work being done and impacts made is also critical for community buy-in and long-term sustainability.
  • Staff training and support is another important component of sustainability. 2,4,5,7 Turnover in staff and leadership roles hinders a program’s ability to make an impact.
    • Investing in staff development is an investment in your program’s sustainability. Creating a successful team and preventing turnover begins with competent leadership that staff can rely on and trust.5
    • Investing time and resources in the recruiting and hiring can ensure that the person is a good fit for the position from the beginning. In addition, matching staff skills to the proper role can keep them engaged.2
  • Clear policies and program documentation procedures increase sustainability. Staff turnover occurs in all organizations, and clear structure and documentation ensures that valuable information and learnings are not lost through these transitions.
  • For a program to be sustainable, funding must also be diversified. Relying on a single funding stream can create vulnerability for the program should funding priorities or amounts change. This can also lead to other supporters feeling less connected to the organization, which may jeopardize other programs that depend on that support.2
    • Agencies should determine what their program goals and services will be prior to seeking out funders.2,4 This ensures that you select funders who are invested in your identified program goals, are understanding of your skills-set, and that the funding goals are aligned with your strategic plan.2
    • Being clear on your goals can help in avoiding mission drift (mission drift is the term given when a nonprofit (or other type of entity) either finds that it has moved away from the organization's mission unintentionally; or the organization consciously moves into a new direction from its mission statement). Unintentional mission drift can be a direct result of chasing funding simply because there is an opportunity for additional financial resources, rather than because it will help further the agency’s mission and goals.

So What?

Make sustainability a priority at all levels of the organization.  Meeting grant goals, increasing effectiveness, streamlining processes, and developing partnerships are key elements of sustainability that should be embedded in each program. Passion and commitment are important when addressing commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking, and in supporting young victims/survivors in their healing journey. However, you cannot do everything, and spreading your breadth of services too thin can reduce the quality of all programs.

  • Strategic plans serve as a guide for sustainability by articulating the framework of services and keeping time, energy, and money focused on those priorities. Any suggested program change should be considered through the lens of your strategic plan and the feasibility of long-term sustainability.
  • Evaluation is the cornerstone of strategic planning and should help inform changes in your strategic plans. Multiple aspects of a program should be evaluated. For example, in a mentoring program serving victims/survivors, effectiveness of staff/mentor training, length and quality of mentor/mentee matches, and youth well-being are good areas to evaluate, in addition to other program outcomes. When possible, tracking long-term outcomes demonstrating the change in potential trajectory is impactful. Also critical in evaluation, and especially with those most vulnerable and affected by trauma, being able to track the incremental changes is crucial. There cannot be lasting change without slow deliberate progress; progress that is tracked, celebrated, and built upon. Ultimately, evaluations provide information about outcomes and determine if a program is successful. Understanding exactly what you want to measure plus identifying clear, realistic outcomes, and being flexible gives you the ability to achieve the maximum benefit for youth and families and helps to keep programs sustainable.
  • Collaboration with other agencies that share your commitment to youth and families in your community creates sustainability.2 Such collaboration can prevent duplication of services, which can result in a strain on funding streams. Additionally, partnership diversifies your program offerings and services. You may be able to seek out grants and other funding opportunities you might not qualify for on your own. For example, a mentoring program who partners with a local career center may add career exploration as a component of their mentoring program.  This partnership may provide opportunities for workforce development funding as well as increase employment opportunities for victims/survivors.
  • Quality staff drive successful programs and outcomes. Without staff there is no organization to sustain. In serving youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation, hiring competent, caring, trauma-responsive staff is essential to creating a successful program. How services are delivered has a large impact on whether or not youth stay engaged.8
  • Change is inevitable, so diversified funding is important. Creating a fund development plan that includes multiple donors, fundraising, grants, and partnerships with other organizations prevents an organizational crisis resulting from a loss of a single funding stream.2
  • Advocate for your program. If no one knows the great work you are doing, it will be harder to sustain your impact. Communicate the success of the work you and your partners are doing with and on behalf of the youth and families in your community. Participating in local regional, state, and national human trafficking awareness efforts can boost program visibility and offer new partnership opportunities.  Engage with law enforcement and public officials so they understand how your prevention and intervention efforts change the community landscape. In addition, resource fairs, back to school nights, and other community events offer an opportunity for community stakeholders to understand your work, and can be great marketing opportunities to recruit youth and mentors.
  • Develop and refine your message. Consider your audience, as well as your program’s purpose, goals, and values.  It is also important to ensure that your message does not re-exploit or cause unintentional harm to victims/survivors.  A victim/survivor should never feel obligated to share their story, and should be consulted in how their story will be used.

Now What? General Practice Implications


  • Consider sustainability when developing new programs, hiring new employees, or when developing strategic plans. For every investment you make, you want to be clear on your ability to maintain or expand on that investment. For example, if you are thinking about developing a new youth program to serve young survivors, your ability to sustain the services should be a key part of that initial conversation and decision-making on how, and even whether, you will proceed. “Sustainability starts when an idea is discovered”. You don’t want to commit to leading something that you cannot picture maintaining; this may mean creating more strategic partnerships to realize a successful sustainability plan.
  • Participate in human trafficking task forces, youth service collaborations, and community development committees to build collaborative relationships with potential partners.

Mezzo/Service Provider

  • If your agency or organization has not already done so, create a strategic plan. There are a number of resources that can help guide you through this process. Strategic planning is not a one-time event, but is ongoing cycle of planning, action, evaluation, and reflection.  Regular times should be scheduled to review the strategic plan at the individual and collective staff levels, with sustainability in mind. The strategic plan should not be stagnate. Create a plan that can be responsive to changing realities including community needs, resources, and your ability to make impacts.2
  • If you have a strategic plan, review with sustainability in mind. Does your strategic plan act as a guide for your program? How can your plan influence your data collection efforts, such as at what data points you want to collect and at what times during the project? Consider how your strategic plan might provide you with guidance on what funding partnerships to foster and funding sources to seek out.
  • Make collaboration a priority! Look for those partners in your community that understand victims/survivors, and those that are not traditionally involved in the issue. Find venues to discuss and determine common values and goals.
  • Diversify your funding stream. If you have only focused on local foundations, consider seeking a state or federal grant, or leverage other funding streams (i.e. Medicaid). Partnering with local foundations, philanthropic donors, corporate sponsors, and the local business community can also generate new funding.  Focus some time and energy on growing your individual donor base. Ensure that you are not dependent on a single funder to continue offering services.  And remember you are an active partner in a funding relationship. Doing great work, collecting outcomes, and advocating for those you serve make your program one worth investing in. Funders want to partner with strong programs making inroads on tough social issues.
  • Leverage technology to create sustainability.2
    • Incorporate virtual programming to appeal to a younger demographic. The world in which we are operating is one that is significantly connected to the Internet. In order to serve and to support young victims and survivors, we need to be in that space. Your program will not last if it is not providing the services needed where they are needed.
    • Use social media to reach a new demographic who might consider supporting your work. Marketing and community outreach plans need to include all venues for engagement – and social media is an important one. Consider in what social media your target stakeholders actively participate, and meet them where they are. Consider employing a young person to help you with social media efforts to ensure that your efforts are targeted appropriately and managed effectively.2


  • Provide nonprofits with training and resources on sustainability.

Mentoring Practice Implications


  • Keep youth involved and on-board, as they are stakeholders for your program.
    • Provide opportunities for youth ownership in all aspects of the services such as design of program, implementation, evaluation, social media, and planning events.
    • Ensure their voice, not just their story, is valued and considered when making programming decisions.

Mezzo/Service Provider

  • Ensuring mentors stay engaged and motivated is important for the longevity of your program. Mentoring is hard work! Particularly when working with young people who have been commercially sexually exploited or are at high risk, mentoring can be draining and quickly lead to burnout.
    • Encourage mentors to practice self-care.
    • Keep mentors plugged in through meetings, emails, or mail, and ensure they have access to support.
    • Encourage mentors with positive stories and share impact and outcomes from evaluations. Let them know that the work they are doing is meaningful!
    • Get regular feedback from mentors. Consider their input in program development and improvement decisions to foster a sense of ownership in the program.
  • Stay connected to other organizations that serve youth and can promote referrals. Mentoring programs serving youth who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation can also benefit from connections with local child protective services, juvenile justice, law enforcement, or other agencies.
    • Establish a point of contact for other organizations.
    • Streamline the referral process in order to make it easy for organizations to connect youth with your services.
    • Seek feedback from current partners about the referral process and make any necessary changes.


  • Promote community partnerships to maximize benefits for youth in mentoring programs and avoid strain on funding sources. For programs serving victims/survivors, consider partnering with local organizations who provide housing, mental health, or other needed services, rather than developing new programs to meet all of these needs.



  1. Leadbeater, B., Gladstone, E., & Sukhawathanakul, P. (2015). Planning for sustainability of an evidence-based mental health promotion program in Canadian elementary schools.  American Journal of Community Psychology, 56, 120-133.
  2. MANY. (2016). How youth services programs stay relevant & sustainable.  Pittsburgh, PA: Truffa, K.
  3. Schell, S., Luke, D., Schooley, M., Elliott, M., Herbers, S., Mueller, N., & Bunger, A. (2013). Public health program capacity for sustainability: A new framework.  Implementation Science, 8(15), 1-9.
  4. Akerlund, K. (2000). Prevention program sustainability: The state’s perspective. Journal of Community Psychology, 28(3), 353-362.
  5. Macini, J., & Marek, L. (2004). Sustaining community-based programs for families: Conceptualization and measurement.  Family Relations, 53, 339-347.
  6. Cooper, B., Bumbarger, B., & Moore, J. (2015). Sustaining evidence-based prevention programs: Correlates in a large-scale dissemination initiative. Prevention Science16(1), 145-157. doi:10.1007/s11121-013-0427-1
  7. Savaya, R., Spiro, S., & Elran-Barak, R. (2008). Sustainability of social programs: A comparative case study analysis. American Journal of Evaluation, 29(4), 478-493.
  8. Sanders, J., Munford, R., Thimasarn-Anwar, T., Liebenberg, L., & Ungar, M. (2015). The role of positive youth development practices in building resilience and enhancing wellbeing for at-risk youth.  Child Abuse & Neglect, 42, 40-53.

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