Given the increased awareness and attention to human trafficking, including the establishment of federal laws and policies, federally funded task forces that provide law enforcement responses, and specialized victim services, it is important to assess the impact of these procedures and services on survivors/victims of international human trafficking and their immigrant children. By federal definition, certified victims of international human trafficking are eligible for all services provided to refugees in this country, including reunification with their minor children. This research is based on a qualitative study conducted in Austin and Houston, Texas with human trafficking victims/survivors. The project’s goal was to gain an understanding of the needs of human trafficking survivors after their rescue, their overall integration into American life, and the subsequent needs of their immigrant children after reunification. The project objectives examined the factors that either promote or hinder self-sufficiency, the determination of social service needs, and policy and practice recommendations to strengthen survivors, their children and their families living both locally and abroad. For this project, nine (n = 9) in-depth interviews were conducted with adult foreign-born victims of human trafficking. Researchers gathered data using a semi-structured questionnaire that queried about factors that promote or hinder victims’ services and needs. Interviews were conducted in participants’ homes using bilingual research staff and/or trained interpreters, were digitally-recorded, and subsequently transcribed. Participation in this study was completely voluntary. Specific steps were taken to ensure that the participants’ identities were protected. Open coding of data was utilized and the data were subsequently organized or grouped into properties and later developed into contextual themes around the research questions. The findings are grounded with the use of direct quotes from participants. As a result of progressive U.S. policy, many victims of human trafficking are being reunited with their minor children. Immigrant children are one of the largest and fastest growing populations in the U.S. and for a variety of reasons are vulnerable to exploitation. Research also indicates that victims of trafficking are identified by traffickers because of their perceived “vulnerabilities” or lack of opportunities (Clark, 2003). Therefore, it is important that practices and policies are developed to address the unique needs of these families with an eye toward positive outcomes for parent and child safety and well-being. Social service providers are provided a toolkit that may be utilized before and during the reunification period.

Key Take Away Points

  • Although support for victims of trafficking exists, considerations for long term needs is necessary.
  • It is a wonderful and difficult transition when the children of human trafficking victims are reunited with their parents in the U.S.
  • Victims of human trafficking would benefit from a thorough preparation and long-term follow up with a case manager.

Author Biography

Noël Bridget Busch-Armendariz, PhD, LMSW, MPA, is an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin as well as the Founding Director and Principal Investigator of the University of Texas Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA). She has managed several million dollars of external funding and more than 30 research projects. Her specialties are interpersonal violence, refugees, victims of human trafficking and asylees, and international social work. She’s called as an expert witness in criminal, civil, and immigration cases. She serves on the editorial board of The Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, a guest reviewer for Violence Against Women, Gender and Society, and Women’s Health Issue. Dr. Busch-Armendariz earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Social Work (MSW), and Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) degrees from the University of South Carolina. She’s awarded the Recent Most Distinguished Contributions to Social Work Education by the Council on Social Work Education.

Maura Busch Nsonwu, PhD, MSW, LCSW is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University in the Department of Sociology and Social Work, a recipient of the Sister Gretchen Reintjes award. She’s practiced as clinician, educator and researcher in Refugee Resettlement, Human Trafficking, Health Care, Child Welfare and Social Work Education. Maura received her Master of Social Work from the University of South Carolina, PhD in Education and teaching positions from the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where she is also a research fellow.

Laurie Cook Heffron, LMSW is a research director with IDVSA. Her current projects include developing professional and organizational resiliency among child welfare workers, evaluation for services to victims of human trafficking, and Texas’ Non-Report Sexual Assault Forensic Exam, a statewide domestic violence prevalence study, developing Texas-specific outcome measures. Previously, she was program coordinator for Green Leaf Refugee Services, a member of the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Laurie earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) from The University of Texas at Austin and is a Licensed Social Worker. She is also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.


This project was supported by Grant Number 2006-VT-BX-K006 awarded to Refugee Services of Texas, Inc. by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and interview subjects and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. This project was also supported by Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work. The authors wish to give a big thanks to staff of Refugee Services of Texas and American Gateways in Austin, Texas and the research participants.