181 – Strengths-Based and Survivor-Informed Aftercare

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Joining Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak to discuss holistic care is Stephanie Taylor. Stephanie is the Program Coordinator for The Salvation Army’s Anti-Trafficking Services Program in Orange County, is part of the core leadership team for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force, and is an Adjunct Professor at Vanguard University teaching the importance of holistic after-care services to human trafficking victim-survivors.

Key Points

  • Holistic care addresses the needs of a person, both biopsychosocial and spiritually, by bringing value to the whole person, seeing them as more than their trafficking victimization.
  • Strengths-based aftercare is approaching a survivor with the knowledge that they have survived their difficult circumstances and can now use the strengths they have adapted to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced and thrive as an individual beyond their trauma.
  • Survivor-informed is a constant learning experience for everyone in the field to learn from the survivors themselves. This includes using surveys, feedback, and their opinions so that we can shift programs based off of someone that’s experienced the program.


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Dave: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 181, Strengths-based and Survivor-informed Aftercare.

Production Credits: [00:00:09] Produced by Innovate Learning, maximizing human potential.

Dave: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. And Sandie today we have a friend with us.

Sandie: [00:00:47] That’s right. I’ll let you introduce her.

Dave: [00:00:50] I am glad to welcome to the show today Stephanie Taylor. She is the program coordinator for the Salvation Army’s Anti-trafficking services program in Orange County. She serves as part of the core leadership team for the Orange County human trafficking task force and works with the United States Department of State International Visitors Delegation providing training on best practices in Orange County addressing human trafficking to delegates from countries around the world. Through a grant awarded by the California Office of Emergency Management Services, Stephanie travels throughout the state providing training to law enforcement and victim advocates on identifying victims of human trafficking, along with best practices, and serving victims of human trafficking after they have left their trafficking situation. She also, works as an adjunct professor at Vanguard University teaching the importance of holistic aftercare services to human trafficking victims survivors. Stephanie, we’re so, glad to welcome you to the show.

Stephanie: [00:01:51] Thank you so, much. Thank you so, much for the invite.

Sandie: [00:01:53] Well you have such a broad experience base, you lived in a Phnom Penh for a while as well working with international human trafficking issues, correct?

Stephanie: [00:02:05] Yes. That’s kind of what launched me into going back to grad school and being able to get an education, so, I could serve the population.

Sandie: [00:02:12] Well when we think about providing aftercare for human trafficking the idea of holistic care comes up over and over again, comes up in your bio, comes up in your syllabi because you teach at Vanguard, I see those things. Can you kind of give us a little context for what that means? Its way out there and people have different ideas about what holistic means.

Stephanie: [00:02:35] Holistic from the way that we approach it as a framework is Maslow’s hierarchy, the framework that we’re all very familiar with. And it’s just addressing the needs of a person, both bio-psychosocial and spiritually and that looks different for every survivor. So, it’s just bringing value to the whole person, seeing them as more than their trafficking victimization, seeing them as a person that has goals and dreams that are you know mothers, daughters, partners, and grandparents even to others. And so, we see that when we bring them into our program and that’s kind of how we approach them. We know that their trauma is a piece of who they are, but it’s not all of who they are.

Sandie: [00:03:15] So, when the Salvation Army here in Orange County started years ago being our partner with the law enforcement to serve victims, they really took the lead especially with international victims. Can you give us a couple examples of the diversity of survivors that Salvation Army serves?

Stephanie: [00:03:39] Well currently to date we have served survivors from up to 38 countries. We worked with survivors from about 18 or 19 different dialects of language. You can see that is a broad range of survivors we worked with. Each culture is different, each approach to life is different. And so, it’s really important that we do enroll a survivor into our program. That cultural competency is a big piece, that’s a big piece of the holistic services and that we just get to know them for who they are, what their needs are, what their dreams are. And we also, understand that in some cultures collectivism is the primary piece of their culture. So, we know that that’s a big piece of the healing process in getting them connected with a community, whether it’s a community of their own from their own culture or getting them connected to a new community depending on the level of safety. And so, that’s part of the holistic services where there are times when some programs are unable to kind of address all of the needs. We kind of see where thee needs are and we have a great collaborative team through the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force that helps us meet those needs so, that we’re not just providing basic needs or just the psychological needs, but we’re also, working toward self-actualization, like in the Maslow’s hierarchy framework. If that is our goal in working with the survivors, then we’re going to cover a lot of things in working with them. And it’s their choice on where they go in the process and what they choose to address. But you know our biggest goal is just to walk alongside them, you know help them access resources, help them access what they need in the healing process until they become self-sufficient and they get to a place where they don’t need us anymore., which is always a good thing, and that they can survive on their own.

Sandie: [00:05:21] That’s great. So, let’s kind of drill down, one of the areas that have been emerging, we’ve done a lot of work on trauma-informed care and now we’re going to be moving into looking at strengths-based and survivor-informed programming. Let’s drill down on strengths-based programming.

Stephanie: [00:05:43] Strengths-based is approaching a survivor with knowing that they have everything in them to be able to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced, and also, to thrive you know as an individual and in the community and accomplish the things that they want to accomplish beyond their trauma. So, when you kind of approach a person like that, whether they’re victims of trauma or just a person, in general, you start to see them differently. Right? So, kind of on a micro level when you’re working with a client, it’s watching them, listening to them, it’s seeing where their strengths are. For example, you know working with interns that work with our survivors, there’s a lot of times we have to reframe how we see our survivors when I’m teaching them the strengths-based approach. It’s saying, “well the reason why they do this is because actually, this is a survival technique that they’ve been using for this many years. So, while you may see it as a maladaptive behavior, you have to understand that they’ve been using this to survive for how long. And that’s a strength.”

Sandie: [00:06:40] So, give us an example of a maladaptive behavior and how you reframe it as a strength.

Stephanie: [00:06:46] A big one is we’ll have a little bit of triangulation sometimes with our survivors. So, a survivor will ask for a resource from my case manager and I’m well connected with our survivors so, they know they can reach out to me at any time too. And sometimes they will manipulate the situation a little bit to get what they need, and we’ve already created a clear boundary between them. But you know they’ve maybe pushed along and they’ve come to me and say well can you do this for me, can this happen for me, trying to kind of change the circumstances. And while my case manager will ally because that’s an important part of showing that sort of teamwork. We also, see that they’re doing it because it’s a survival tactic, it’s something that they’ve had to do for a very long time. It’s a strength in that sense. So, that changes our approach when we’re approaching them. Does that make sense?

Sandie: [00:07:37] Yeah. So, that triangulation, we might if we were trying to bring that down into what happens maybe in our own homes is when the kids go to dad and he said no and then they go to mom and she says yes and you’re like what we were supposed to be aligned on this. And so, then we tell the kids no more of that. But you’re reframing this for a survivor so, that we’re looking at this as strength, this is how they’ve learned to overcome really challenging exploitation and abuse.

Stephanie: [00:08:12] Exactly. And the beauty of it for us is that we don’t necessarily have to condone this behavior. We have a conversation with them, but we don’t come at them like you’re trying to manipulate. I mean it’s you against us. It’s, “you know, you’ve been doing this for a very long time,” we’re not communicating this to them, but this is our understanding, “This is how you’ve been surviving, and you’ve made it this far. So, you know I can’t imagine what you’ve had to do to get to this point in your life. So, it’s not an offense to me that this is about you’re doing. This is just an opportunity for us to have a corrective experience to establish report and to create a boundary.”

Sandie: [00:08:49] You just used a phrase that I really like “corrective experience.” So, many times we look at bumps in the road and we see them in a negative light. We might even consider them disciplinary almost to the point of you know deducting points or something like that. So, when you’re talking about a corrective experience that’s another way of reframing things. And I think I’d like to know how I could put that into practice more often.

Stephanie: [00:09:25] Oh corrective experiences are the best. Because anything can be a corrective experience. So, if a client goes and advocates for themselves and from what they think to fail at that process because maybe they’re not being heard or maybe they’re not dealing with individuals that are strengths-based. It’s an opportunity to walk through that with them and to say OK well what was your experience like. And empower them and say you did a fantastic job. You know this is where you contributed to the conversation, look how far you’ve come. So, I think you can take almost any scenario with a survivor and kind of turn it into a corrective experience. Another example is, for a while we had a male psychiatrist come in and he was working with us survivors. And we were a little bit apprehensive about having a male come in as a mental health professional. We were really thinking this could also, be a very corrective experience for our survivors, so, let’s try it out. And of course, we asked the women and we said Hey do you feel comfortable with this. And you know one of them said yeah, I think I can. And it ended up being a very corrective experience for her because she had dealt with men in a story that were clearly abusing their power. And she was able to be introduced to a man that she grew to feel safe with on a professional level and learn those boundaries. It’s a very good example of like what a corrective experience can be like for one of our survivors.

Sandie: [00:10:42] While that chart’s like a new expectation for life experiences on the whole.

Stephanie: [00:10:48] Yes exactly. If you’re coming from a strengths-based perspective and you’re looking at through that framework you’re going oh my gosh. So, you’re always kind of re-evaluating it. So, I feel like when I’m working with these survivors, it takes a minute for your brain to kind of switch over into that, but that actually starts to affect your life. You start to see things from more of a strengths-based perspective too. You’re always kind of looking for the positive in it I guess. Or even a step further just the actual strength in it. Do you see the difference?

Sandie: [00:11:15] Yeah. I mean I could use some of that in my own life. Do you want to follow me around a bit, Stephanie?

Stephanie: [00:11:22] I’d love to hang out with you, Sandie? Of course!

Sandie: [00:11:25] OK. So, let’s kind of talk about what that looks like when you’re giving a voice for a survivor and how they begin to express those strengths.

Stephanie: [00:11:35] Yes. So, we kind of go through as a survivor I firmly believe that if a survivor transitions from a victim to a survivor, and it looks very specific to each survivor. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, it’s almost like a feeling. When I was working in domestic violence it was kind of the same thing, something shifts in a victim and all of a sudden, they become empowered and it’s all in their own timing. And so, when you’re looking at like survivor informed you’re seeing them and you know that that’s part of the process. You know at the beginning they’re not going to know their voice and they’re not going to know what it sounds like, you know their inner voice even from their outer voice. Our job is just kind of pulling that out of them. So, it’s like what do you think about it. Well you know this is your choice, here are all your options, what do you think. I’m going to inform you and educate you on what your options are, but I’m not making that decision because you’re the expert in your own life. That starts to eventually create an empowerment in them and they start to make their own decisions. And something I’ve noticed over the years when a survivor gets to the place where they start to get angry, I know that they’re shifting into a place of safety and healing because you know with grief or any sort of loss or trauma, anger is a part of that process. Unfortunately, a lot of times the anger is directed at us because we’re the safest person in their life. But from a strengths-based perspective I don’t see that as a negative thing, I see it as part of that growth. Now, like I was saying with corrective experiences, it is an opportunity for us to teach them a corrective experience and like anger is good it is part of this process. However, here are some coping mechanisms for dealing with anger. You know what I mean, there are ways that you can handle your anger. This isn’t quite effective, but this does work. So, we’re seeing strengths-based with corrective experiences. We’re letting them experience all the emotions that they need to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.

Sandie: [00:13:29] So, you create an environment where it’s safe to be angry and then to figure out how to act and cope with that anger in a real-life situation.

Stephanie: [00:13:42] Yes. And sometimes that’s just in the middle of us interacting you know sometimes it’s not as clinical and perfectly set up sometimes it’s just like, “I hear you and I know you’re frustrated. I’m so, sorry.” And we let them lead in that process. What would you like to do from here? Do you need a minute? Would you like to meet up tomorrow? Or do we need to talk about this now? And We let them choose. So, here they are, even in their anger we’re trying to empower them.

Sandie: [00:14:08] So, you gave this person three options. Do you want to talk about this now? Do you want to do this tomorrow? Do you need the minute? Those are really great ways to let them drive the conversation instead of feeling like I’m going to reflect this back to you and you’re still really in control. And for an aftercare provider or even a volunteer learning how to hand over the power in a situation where you feel like you’ve got to control it because of the mounting emotion. That is a skill that we have to practice.

Stephanie: [00:14:47] Yeah, I agree. As long as they’re in a safe place and you know their safety is a piece of that, they should be able to feel and experience their trauma however they need to. And we just need to be a conduit to help them.

Sandie: [00:14:59] So, define a safe place or a safe space for us.

Stephanie: [00:15:05] I mean if we’re saying you know if we’re seeing the survivor escalate you know to a place where it could potentially get unsafe you know they could get violent. Then we have our tactics, we have our grounding techniques, we have our de-escalation techniques, and a lot of that includes validation. When somebody is escalating the best way to de-escalate them is to validate their feelings. That’s really where the escalation comes from. They’re not feeling heard, they’re not feeling seen. So, we use those tactics, but again that’s a strengths-based approach. And then at that point, because we are a person in the room that’s not feeling the emotions, we may need to make the call you know and say you know let’s just give it some time. You know let’s take 10 minutes or maybe we can meet tomorrow. But there needs to be an agreement on the survivors and that’s okay. They need to be a part of that decision-making process. We don’t make that decision for them. Does that make sense?

Sandie: [00:15:54] Yes so, the strengths-based approach then goes back and uses tools from trauma-informed care. And just to remind us, just take us through like a really quick grounding exercise.

Stephanie: [00:16:11] OK, I’ll give an example, I’ll give you a little story. So, I had a client that was in the middle of her immigration process and the Homeland Security Investigations had to be involved because we have to report to law enforcement cases where people like to pick. They decided to come out and meet with her. So, she was very hyper-vigilant with her in her trauma. She would just disassociate her very quickly. So, we were a little bit nervous like you know we have this looming interview where we’re going to have to dive right into her trafficking experience. So, I know that when she started to disassociate, I could touch her back or touch her arm and tell her you to know to remind where your feet can feel the ground beneath you. You know what do you smell? We just bring them back to the presence. So, I did that with her quite a few times and it works. We have these grounding kits that we used and sometimes will use them in court with those survivors or with their interviews like with homeland security investigations where it has one of those stress balls so, they could kind of feel something that keeps them present. And there are a few other items, so, that’s kind of how we use grounding to kind of bring them back and pull them out of their disassociation.

Sandie: [00:17:21] I love the idea of having a grounding kit with you. That’s outstanding. You talked about her experience and she have to tell this story, it’s part of the whole process, part of her case, but in a strengths-based approach recognizing that a victim is more than their trafficking story. What’s the role in how you’re helping them move to the next level with regard to their story?

Stephanie: [00:17:53] So, in our program specifically we work very heavily in the goal setting. So, we do quarterly goals with our survivors and then every month we kind of reassess those goals. And from a holistic approach, we go out we do everything from financial assistance. Where are you with transportation? What are your goals for housing? What are the goals of the community and social support? What are your spiritual goals? So, we cover bio, psycho, social, spiritual. And they create the goals. They create where they are currently, what their goal is, the next steps, and a date. And we work with them every month and kind of see where they’re moving. Some goals are a little bit further in the future, so, we put those off. Housing for example, if they are in our guest house and they’re waiting for the immigration, housing is still going to be about a year away. But they can work on social support. They can go get into maybe a group therapy session or maybe getting connected with their community again or getting connected with a church. So, that how we address the whole person.

Sandie: [00:18:55] That’s really a long process because for a survivor to really own being more than just their story of victimization it means building a vision for the future and seeing themselves outside of that story. And then for the people around them to see them beyond what their story was. And unfortunately, sometimes in the anti-trafficking world, our focus on telling the stories to raise awareness can inadvertently be an obstacle for survivors who just want to move on and be more than a survivor of human trafficking. So, as we’re looking at this I know we talked earlier a little bit about some tools, can you make some recommendations on things we could refer to help us?

Stephanie: [00:19:53] As practitioners, yeah, I think becoming familiar is as simple as Maslow’s hierarchy is. I think when you’re working with victims of trauma we have to go back to the basics so, I think that’s a big one to always be referring to. I think Quarterly Goal setting is another huge one and it just addresses the entire person from a trauma-informed and survivor’s perspective. We do surveys with survivors when they graduate. We just recently had a graduation. We had sixteen survivors graduate. They are doing so, well, they don’t need us anymore. And we have them complete surveys of what did you like about our program, what did you not like about our program? They’re always anonymous so, that we can be as honest as they’d like. And we got a lot of great feedback. We also, have another survey for the guest house. When a survivor leaves our human trafficking shelter, we give them a survey just to kind of get some feedback on the programming, what they felt about it and that is constantly kind of feeding back into our program. And so, we can shift things and tweak things because we see the value in it and we know that it’s informed by someone that’s experienced our program and that’s really important to us as a program. And then I think just in the field of human trafficking it just empowers individuals, even more, to feel like they have a voice when they’re coming out of their trafficking situations.

Sandie: [00:21:06] And that sense of Survivor-informed is a constant learning experience for everyone in the field. And we’re seeing more and more emphasis on Survivor led. And where do you see that in this Salvation Army program?

Stephanie: [00:21:22] Currently we have a survivor group that is actually led by survivors. We also, have what we call kind of a group within our program we call it the Filipino Support Group. We have a large Filipino population and we know that Filipinos are collective in their culture. So, it’s very important as a social support to be able to get them together. And they all work so, hard that they don’t always have the time to make that happen, so, we kind of created a moment once a month and they come together, they bring food and they lead the group. They kind of talk about how immigration is going for them, they kind of just exchange notes, and support each other. And to me, that is just a perfect example of survivor-led. They are empowering each other, they feel inspired when they leave. I mean the group is growing and growing because that’s where they come for that support. That’s part of that holistic process and the common form process.

Sandie: [00:22:11] It’s so, organic and it’s not something that you can easily program because you don’t necessarily have the same kind of experiences so, they are going to be much more successful. That’s great. So, as we kind of wind up here, I’ve been listening, and I jotted down a few notes where I saw some risk for some transference, some risk for internalizing maybe the anger or resentment from triangulation things like that. So, how do you do self-care Stephanie because you’ve been doing this a long time? Just give us your favorite way of addressing self-care.

Stephanie: [00:22:52] OK. So, I mean I tell my students or I tell my interns, I have them all do a self-care plan you know and we re-evaluate halfway through. And one thing I’ve learned over the years with self-care, a lot of times we approach self-care with like what we should be doing to take care of ourselves. And that’s why we completely lost the whole point of self-care. We’re like I need to exercise three times a week to be able to have self-care, and then you’re all stressed about going to the gym.

Sandie: [00:23:15] Yeah exactly.

Stephanie: [00:23:17] And then you’re not in self-care at all, now you just have more chores and more tasks for yourself. I always use exercise because that’s the one big one that everybody talks about. But it’s looking in your life and looking at the things that you thoroughly enjoy, that really bring life to you, that gives your energy. It’s evaluating in your life what you already have there. The strengths-based approach, what do you have in your life that’s already produces life in you. For me, self-care is an adventure, travel as much as I can because it produces life in me. Sometimes it just means jumping on a train and going to LA for the day you know and shopping, and you know having good food, and then coming home. That’s self-care for me because it feels sometimes like you’re in another country. So, it is seeing what you already enjoy in life and just pursuing that you know even more. Versus creating a task of things, you should be doing and then trying to accomplish them and then just burning out.

Sandie: [00:24:09] That is such a good plan. And I know from reading your syllabi that you start the very first week with students in the aftercare course looking at self-care. And so, you and I need to plan a train trip where we go eat and have fun. So, thank you so, much for being on the podcast and especially for teaching in our Antihuman Trafficking Certificate program. Your experience on the ground practitioner is so, valuable for our students. Thanks, Stephanie.

Stephanie: [00:24:45] Thank you so, much for having me.

Dave: [00:24:46] Well I’ll echo my thanks as well, Sandie. You know it is just so, heartwarming to see what a wonderful community is part of not only our podcast community but also, through the Global Center for Women and Justice here at Vanguard University, as Stephanie’s on faculty as we mentioned. And we want to also, invite you to take the first step if you are just listening maybe for the first time or maybe just the first few times. I hope you’ll take a moment to hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book The Five Things You Must Know, A Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking. We hit on a couple of elements today in this conversation but a lot of detail there it’s an important starting point for five critical things that Sandie and the center have identified that you should note before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get instant access to the guide by visiting endinghumantrafficking.org. And just a reminder that our next Ensure Justice conference is coming up in early 2019, March 1st and 2nd 2019. You can find more information at ensurejustice.com. And Sandie, we will be back in two weeks.

Sandie: [00:26:02] That’s right. Thanks, Dave.

Dave: [00:26:04] See you then, everyone. Take care.

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