RWJBarnabas Health receives significant grant from federal government for children, families

WEST ORANGE, NJ — RWJBarnabas Health announced Jan. 26 that the health system is the recipient of a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office on Trafficking in Persons. ACF formally announced this funding in late 2022 and, to mark National Human Trafficking Prevention Month in January, RWJBarnabas Health announced that the new funding will be used to help support the system’s Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative’s efforts in educating staff across the system to identify and treat individuals experiencing human trafficking and expand access to critical services through strategic partnerships. 

The Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative was formed at RWJBarnabas Health to raise awareness among health professionals about labor and sex trafficking of children and adults. Drawing upon the expertise of Covenant House New Jersey in screening and identification protocols, the collaborative has been working to improve the ability of health professionals to recognize individuals who may be experiencing human trafficking and respond appropriately. As a grant recipient, the system will now implement ACF’s SOAR to Health and Wellness Training Demonstration Program, which is grounded in a public health approach and designed to build the capacity of health professionals through specialized training to identify, treat and respond to the complex needs of individuals who have experienced trafficking. 

“In recognition of the investment we have already made in the system’s Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative, as well as a comprehensive education program to train our staff, we are incredibly honored to be one of only two organizations recognized by the Administration for Children and Families with this generous grant,” said Suzanne Spernal, vice president for women’s services at RWJBarnabas Health. “Hospitals and health systems are critical parts of the solution to human trafficking. It is estimated that more than 80 percent of people access health care services during their trafficking experience. As an anchor institution and New Jersey’s largest, most comprehensive academic health care system, we are in a unique position to help groups that have been economically and socially underserved, including people who are experiencing human trafficking.”

According to ACF, “The SOAR to Health and Wellness Training Demonstration Program, a new pilot program grounded in ACF’s SOAR to Health and Wellness framework, will equip professionals in clinical health and social services settings to identify, treat and respond to people impacted by human trafficking by delivering culturally responsive, trauma-informed and patient-centered care.” 

Human trafficking is a global issue, but it is a pervasively local issue in New Jersey. Jersey City and Newark — each home to an RWJBarnabas Health hospital — were identified as two of the top cities in New Jersey from which calls are placed to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

“RWJBarnabas Health has been a committed advocate for individuals who have experienced human trafficking in New Jersey for several years,” said Julia Einbond, associate executive director at Covenant House Action and Research Tank. “In working together to further build out the system’s Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative through this grant, we will be able to connect many more individuals experiencing human trafficking with the support that they need.”