The Importance of Collaboration: A Multidisciplinary Response
Collaboration isn't easy. But that's precisely what makes it so important.
STOP-IT has co-led the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force in partnership with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois since 2010. As a result of these efforts, we have collaborated with a multidisciplinary team to pursue justice for survivors, to ensure that the various systems with which they engage have the capacity to respond, and to ensure that quality social services are available to them at every juncture. We couldn't do this work without a wide array of partnerships and continue to build our networks to better meet the diverse and unique needs of survivors.
So what is collaboration and why do we value it so much?
The Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force values consistent and dedicated efforts to collaborate through task force work and on cases when appropriate, in the best interest of the survivor and in line with the survivor’s wishes, in order to meet a shared mission and vision of eradicating human trafficking. Collaboration within the task force is based on co-created processes and negotiated values that are meant to be survivor-centered and trauma-informed. Collaboration isn't just working on a case with each of our distinct roles, but converging processes and creating new ones based on what we view as being most aligned with our shared values. As a multidisciplinary team of 30 member agencies with distinct agendas and priorities, this means coming to the table intentionally to identify our unique roles, provide our specific perspectives, and work together as a task force to fill gaps and influence systemic responses to human trafficking.
There are inherent places of tension in working relationships with entities who may have different priorities. Law enforcement is focused on safety and holding people responsible for crimes they may have committed. Social service providers are focused on the wishes, needs and goals of survivors, many of which are not grounded in the desire for a criminal justice response. Child welfare is focused on the health and well being of children, but also on the family unit. Legal service providers are focused on advocating for survivors' legal rights. The courts are focused on upholding the law - and sometimes interface with survivors as defendants. These cases are complicated, messy, with many moving parts, and often urgent and dire safety concerns come into play that put each of these entities at odds in what is ultimately the best process in providing assistance.
The reality is that these tensions are par for the course - instead of pretending that they don't exist, we must push forward to consistently build relationships, set expectations, educate each other on why each of our priorities are valid and necessary, and come to a more reflective understanding of why working together benefits all of our work. More importantly, working in silos is to no benefit of a survivor. We know and see the exponential difference in having relationships to help navigate the complex systems that a survivor will engage with to prevent re-victimization and re-traumatization.
As a task force, we have member organizations with expertise that are able and committed to providing a myriad of assistance. We've connected folks to attorneys to see survivors receive immigration relief and ultimately reunite with family from home country right here in the US, helped them find new apartments to call their own, provided support as they have gone through the trial process to ultimately see their trafficker held accountable, and gotten them critical medical care and access to public benefits that have helped stabilize them so they can move forward. All of these things are possible because of partnerships and people in the systems that matter.
It's why we do this work. It's why we continue to advocate for more voices at the table. It's why we value our partners.
When things go well in this arena, we see survivors thrive. And ultimately, for all of us, that's a win for which we must always strive.