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Project Runaway – A Collaborative Effort to Bring Kids Home

By Fletcher Word
Sojourner’s Truth Editor

A number of Lucas County agencies and organizations have collaborated to form a project to take a regional approach to curbing sex trafficking. The endeavor, Project Runaway, will re-inforce the work of the Toledo Police Department.

“We all know what needs to be done,” said Lucas County Sheriff John Tharpe at a press conference on Thursday, February 6, to announce the project. “We needed to get more feet on the street … to get our children back and it’s a matter of having the money to do it.”

Present at the press conference to express participation and support in the Project Runaway were: Toledo Police Chief George Kral, State Sen. Teresa Fedor; Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates; Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak; UT Professor Celia Williamson; Judge Connie Zemmelman, Lucas County Court of Common Pleas; Patrick McColley, Ohio Department of Transportation; John DeBruyne, RESCUE president; Kevin Dalton, Toledo Federation of Teachers and John Henry, OBS Financial, President/CEO and D.A.R.T board facilitator.

The plan, as Tharp described, is to raise enough funding to bring on six retired police officers, who already have the experience and the expertise to search for runaways and bring them back home. Once home, the appropriate agencies, such as RESCUE, among others, are ready to provide the long-term services to work with the kids.

“Agencies have said that if we can get these children back to Lucas County, we can find out why they are leaving,” said Tharp. According to researchers, he added, runaway and homeless youth are 2.5 times more likely to get molested or get addicted if they are away from home for two weeks or more.

With the funding that has been provided already to the Project, five retired police officers have been brought on board – one more will complete the goal set by the collaborative, said Tharpe.

Celia Williamson, whose work was cited by many speakers at the press conference as the inspiration for the collaborative effort, also took a turn at the podium. Named one of the top 30 most influential social workers alive today, distinguished professor, Williamson has over 25 years of anti-trafficking experience. She is a professor of social work at the University of Toledo where she has received 13 years of federal and state funding to study sex trafficking and prostitution and hosts the oldest and largest international academic human trafficking conference in the world.

“You have to go where the risk is and make a significant difference there,” she said.

She applauded the various member groups of the collaborative and their cooperative spirit.

“Everyone said ‘yes,’” she said. “We always had the willingness – we just needed the coordination. Everyone is coming together to say this is important – we love our children … go find them and link them up to long-term services.”

The keys to success of Project runaway, noted the various representatives of the collaborating agencies, are finding Toledo-area runaway kids in their various locations around the country, bringing them back to this area and getting them into the appropriate programs that can deal with why they left – family situations, abuse, foster family troubles, for example – and work out the difficulties they have encountered since leaving – abuse, trafficking, addiction.

Robin Reese, executive director of Lucas County children Services will of course be one of those individuals who will be deeply involved in this program.

“We take protecting our children seriously,” she said. “This leadership – we are going to lead the nation in prevention. This is what we do in Lucas County, we came together to help.”



Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 02/13/20 09:26:01 -0500.

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