• Human Trafficking Series, Part 2: Sex Trafficking

    Along with labor trafficking, sex trafficking is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States and is on the rise. From 2007 to 2017 the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 34,700 reports of sex trafficking. According to the F.B.I., sex trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal industry, right behind drug trafficking.

    Donate Opportunity: Support our Human Trafficking Support Program Now

    According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking can be defined as “recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of an individual through the means of force, fraud, or coercion for those of commercial sex.” Although if the individual is under the age of 18 then force, fraud, or coercion does not have to take place. The average age of sex trafficking victims is 13 years old.

    In order to spread awareness, we have compiled a list of different ways individuals can become trafficked.

    Internet-based – We live in a time where technology use is at an all-time high, which makes Internet-based sex trafficking very popular and easy to access. Internet-based trafficking can take many forms through various apps and social media that are easily accessible for children and adults. There have been recent reports of individuals being exploited through resale apps, such as backpage.com, which has recently been shut down. Many traffickers also use social media, like TikTok, as a way to recruit. Since many cases come through social media and dating sites, it is important to be aware of what your children are doing on the Internet.

    Street-based – Street based trafficking is the form of sex trafficking that typically first comes to mind when discussing the topic. It is when a trafficker sells a child or adult to gain profit or in exchange for something of value. Pimps/Traffickers will use violence, drugs, or blackmail as a form of coercion. These victims will typically be walking up and down the streets, waving down vehicles, dress very nice and look older than what they actually are. Traffickers will persuade young males or females by complimenting their looks, using manipulative techniques to convince them they are joining a group of people that care about them or ask them if they want to make easy money.

    Gang-based – Gang based trafficking is similar to street-based trafficking except it is affiliated through gangs. Members will lure in young boys and girls through bribery with flattering statements about the young person’s appearance or ask them if they would like to make a lot of money. Gang members may buy their victims expensive clothing, purses, or accessories to lure them in. Once they have recruited the male or female, members of the gang typically use drugs and violence as their method to keep the individuals as the gang’s property and then use the victims for profit.

    Private Parties This occurs within the transient male population, although females can also be predators. Private parties can be held anywhere and anytime, however, they are most popular during large events, such as the Super Bowl. Predators are very strategic during this time, as they know police officers will be preoccupied with other crimes like drunk driving, shifting the focus from trafficking to other events.

    Pornography – This is when pornography involves exploiting victims by recording sexual acts the victim performs. The trafficker can use the footage as leverage to get what they want or to use as training for other victims. An example of this may be a 5-year-old boy whose grandfather takes photos of him while he’s in the bathtub and the grandfather bribes him with $5 not to tell. Then after the grandfather takes the photos, he sells them online.

    Sex trafficking can be a very difficult topic to learn about, however, there is high importance on educating yourself, so that you can educate your child or someone you know. There are so many sex trafficking victims in our community that need help, but we cannot help them if we do not raise the funds to do so. If you feel moved by this topic, please donate to our organization to help victims get a better-quality life. Complete the form to donate. 


  • Human Trafficking Series, Part 1: Labor Trafficking

    Human trafficking is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States and Illinois ranks among the top 10 states for it. That means there are cases everyday where individuals are being exploited and taken advantage of without notice. On a global scale, the International Labor Organization estimates that 20.1 million people are victims of labor trafficking. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 7,800 reports of labor trafficking in the United States alone. Here are some tips regarding awareness toward individuals who may be victims of labor trafficking.

    Common Places Labor Trafficking Can Happen:

    Labor trafficking can happen anywhere no matter if it occurs in a large city or a small town. Often times, people rule out small towns because of the size of the community and the knowledge of its citizens; however, labor trafficking happens there too. Being located near St. Louis Lambert International and multiple heavily traveled interstates it is easier for victims to be transported between communities. Some of the most common places to do so are in: restaurants, barges, landscaping services, domestic work, beauty services, carnivals, farming, massage parlors, and family owned businesses.

    Language & Warning Signs of Labor Trafficking Victims:

    If you suspect someone may be a victim to labor trafficking, watching that person’s body language and paying attention to what they say can be key. If they use phrases like “I’m not allowed to” or seem shameful, have unusual tattoos or brandings and don’t want to talk about them, are hypervigilant in conversation, or have long and unusual hours with little to no time off – these could all be warning signs that an individual is a victim of labor trafficking.

    Populations Where Labor Trafficking Occurs:

    Labor trafficking can often happen to individuals who are in the United States on a Work Visa. Once they are hired, a supervisor may take their Work Visa, which is the person’s identification and proof of their status. This tactic is used as leverage to keep trafficked individuals working under harsh conditions. These traffickers take advantage of victims vulnerabilities to exploit them in a damaging way.


    Hoyleton Youth and Family Services offers support for victims of human trafficking through our Healing and Loving Oneself (HALO) program. Stay tuned next week for Part II of our Human Trafficking Awareness Serious.

    If you suspect someone who may be a victim of labor trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.




  • Three Ways Counseling Can Help Someone with PTSD

    Like most mental health conditions, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is complex in nature and, therefore, does not have one specific cure. Despite the multitude of events, triggers, and symptoms associated with PTSD, there are some ways counseling can be an effective treatment method. Everyone processes trauma differently, but there are some common ways counseling can help those with PTSD cope with their trauma and go on to live full, healthy lives. Here are three widely-used methods: 

    Cognitive Restructuring

    After a traumatic experience, the brain may make negative thought associations that affect the way a person is able to view the situation and exacerbate symptoms of PTSD. Often times, these associations are inaccurate and disjointed, leading to a skewed memory of the traumatic event. Identifying and unraveling these negative thought patterns with a counselor is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help individuals view their situation more clearly, i.e. cognitive restructuring, and respond to it more effectively.

    Exposure Therapy

    As part of self-preservation, a person with PTSD may avoid situations that remind them of their trauma or scenarios that they feel could cause that trauma to happen again. Although this type of behavior is a natural response to PTSD, depending on how extreme the avoidance is, it can be quite an unhealthy coping mechanism. Exposure therapy can help a person overcome their PTSD by confronting trauma triggers in a safe, controlled environment with the support of a counselor. This gradual form of treatment can help desensitize a person to their trauma triggers over time. 

    Managing Specific Symptoms 

    Each person has their own individual way of processing traumatic stress, but there are a number of common symptoms among those dealing with PTSD. A benefit of counseling is the ability to receive a personalized treatment plan that can address those symptoms and help individuals develop new cognitive behaviors and strategies that help them  cope in healthier ways that reduce the effects of their trauma.

    Though trauma can have a profound impact on a person, supportive services and guidance from licensed therapists can help them along their healing process and ultimately improve their quality of life.  

    For more information about supportive counseling services at Hoyleton Youth and Family Services, call (618) 688 – 4727. 



    Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

    The Critical Role of Counselors in PTSD Treatment

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles

  • Recognizing and Reducing Signs of Trauma In Foster Youth

    Protecting children from harm is often a shared goal among schools, communities, and entire nations; however, this isn’t always possible. Traumatic events vary, yet they all have the potential to deeply affect kids who have directly experienced them, or even witnessed them happening to others. Regardless of the specific situation, trauma can have a profound impact on a person’s mental, physical, emotional and behavioral health. 

    Though all foster youth don’t experience traumatic events, and frightening or dangerous events don’t always end up traumatizing them, being aware of both, the situations that cause trauma and the symptoms that suggest it, is a great start to effectively helping children cope. 


    Recognizing Symptoms of Trauma 

    Even after a traumatic experience passes, the trauma still lingers. Moreover, there may be resulting life changes that serve as constant reminders of that trauma, i.e. school transfers, court cases, or new living situations. Understanding the shift in circumstances that may remind youth of their trauma can help guardians know when to tune in and pay attention to trauma symptoms that may manifest as a result. Here are some common reactions, varying by age: 

    Preschool Children

    • Nightmares 
    • Weight loss and refusal to eat
    • Regression (in development) 
    • Excessive crying & clinginess (especially when separated from a parent/guardian)

    Elementary School

    • Poor concentration  
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Strong anxiety or fear
    • Fighting at school 
    • Academic decline 

    Middle School & High School 

    • Depression 
    • Academic decline
    • Antisocial behavior 
    • Self harm 
    • Substance abuse 
    • Risky sexual behavior
    • Eating disorders 

    If a child experiences any or most of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that they have been traumatized, but it may point to some sort of emotional upheaval they’re dealing with. For an official diagnosis, visit a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health therapist, licensed clinical social worker, or licensed clinical professional counselor. 


    How to Help 

    The most effective ways to help a child through their trauma depends on their individual experience, however, there are some steps to take that can help reduce their trauma, in conjunction with the professional counsel of doctors, counselors and social workers. 

    Keep it consistent 

    Foster youth often experience a lot of disruption in their lives, due to frequent displacement in the system or as a result of their trauma. Though change is inevitable, this constant disruption can cause anxiety and trigger past trauma. One way foster families can ease some of this anxiety is through establishing patterns that provide a sense of security, like creating a daily schedule and follow it as closely as possible, explaining any changes of plans to kids in advance. 

    Look for Patterns

    As part of their healing process, youth may develop particular coping habits to deal with their trauma or event reenact traumatic situations through school projects, playtime or other behaviors. Look for habits that have surfaced that may be connected to their trauma and take note of those behaviors, and when they tend to occur. Share this information with their counselor, social worker, physician or therapist. 

    Watch Your Response

    Though there are common behavioral responses to trauma, there is no one ones size fits all way to respond. Some children may seek out attention and comfort through acting out or, conversely, through clinginess. The best thing for foster parents to do is to offer comfort, encouragement, and spend quality time with kids. They should remember to be patient as kids figure out how to cope, and provide them with professional resources to help them through that often lifelong process. 


    Foster families seeking support can call our Hoyleton Youth and Family Services’ Behavioral Health Department for more information (618) 688 – 4727.


    Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma

    Trauma and Children: An Introduction for Foster Parents 

    Understanding Child Trauma

  • Three Ways Our Prevention Specialists Are Protecting Community Youth Against Violence

    School is out for the summer. But for some neighborhoods, this time of year is anything but carefree. A wide breadth of scientific studies and reports reveal a positive correlation between violence and temperature (i.e. crime spikes with the heat), and in areas already suffering from violent crime, summer brings a new set of safety concerns.

    Though June is National Safety Month, our prevention specialists work in different Southern Illinois schools and communities throughout the year to keep youth protected on multiple fronts.

    Here are three ways we’re helping reduce violence in communities, starting with youth:


    Understanding community issues

    There are several communities where violence prevention efforts are focused, two of which are Cahokia and Dupo, both low-income, neighboring communities. In some ways they differ; Cahokia is predominantly African American community and the majority of Dupo’s population is Caucasian. Throughout both, violence is considered the norm.

    The norm is family and friends taking drugs and being violent. A lot of them have trauma and, unfortunately, they’re seeing things they shouldn’t be seeing. And we’re going in to show them that life doesn’t have to be that way,” says prevention specialist, Yvonne Petito.


    Teaching concrete life skills

    To combat the prevalence of drugs and violence in these communities, Hoyleton prevention specialists rely on the Botkins Life Skills curriculum to teach kids how to deal with these issues. Due to the connection between drugs and violence, the Botkins Life Skills curriculum includes coping skills and decision-making strategies, with a focus on substance use and violence issues. For the latter, examples of lesson topics include Violence In the Media and Coping with Anger.

    This valuable information is taught to middle school students, while they’re at this critical developmental point in their lives. Youth from 6th to 8th grade go through this curriculum, with a varying number of sessions per grade.

    They both go hand in hand – when you’re on substances, sometimes those substances provoke violent behavior,” says Petito. Student surveys about the program indicate that they are finding this information to be beneficial. Petito theorizes it’s because it’s the only place they have to turn – “they’re just not getting this outside of school.”


    Providing support from all angles

    Though the Botkins curriculum has already received positive feedback, Hoyleton prevention specialists are taking further steps toward prevention. Petito regularly works with teachers to tackle issues that may crop up, such as bullying, and helps to incorporate strategies from the curriculum to address them.

    Her goal is to increase interaction with parents in the coming months. The first opportunity for this interaction will be at an upcoming health fair, and at a violence prevention program, ‘It Takes A Village,’ to be held at Oliver Parks in Cahokia.

    With teachers, I make it a point to sit in the teachers lounge to have those conversations with them. I really want to give parents a chance to meet me, and talk to them about what’s going on, so I’m trying to make that happen.”


    These are just three ways Hoyleton Youth and Family Services is working in the collective goal to protect youth from community violence and prevent this widespread issue from growing any further.  

  • Puentes de Esperanza: Ruth & Fabio’s Journey

    Puentes de Esperanza (Bridges of Hope) helps Spanish speaking individuals navigate the system, that can be quite intimidating at first. Ruth and Fabio are two individuals who have been impacted by our mission here at Hoyleton Youth and Family Services.

    Ruth, who came to the United States in 1993, heard of Hoyleton Youth and Family Services through family. “It’s really helpful when you move to a new place, where you don’t know anything, anyone or have a way of navigating the system, that there is someone that can help you along the way to make new connections and familiarize yourself with your surroundings,” said Ruth.

    Ruth and Fabio met through their work, where Ruth introduced Fabio to Puentes de Esperanza. Through our Puentes program, we were able to help Ruth and Fabio and their three children navigate the system by hiring lawyers and interpreters, helping them with taxes, studying English and connecting them to recourses to become citizens. Because of our Counseling Care team, we were also able to connect their family with counseling services and help with insurance information. Lastly, we were able to provide Ruth and Fabio with the right resources to get married.


    As we have worked with Ruth and Fabio throughout the years, we are able to witness their personal growth and increased knowledge. “I think one of the great joys of working with any of the people we help is when they begin to feel comfortable navigating systems on their own. I love when I can help someone with their problems, but ultimately we want them to be able to have that knowledge and confidence to do it themselves,” said Jovany, Bilingual Family and Community Advocate.


    We enjoy getting to provide resources to Spanish speaking individuals and families who are in a vulnerable state. By building their confidence from within, we are bettering our community and the lives of those around us. If you know a Spanish speaking individual or family who could benefit from Puentes de Esperanza, contact us.


  • Ways to Advocate for LGBTQ Youth In Foster Care and in Our Communities

    Foster youth who are coming of age, are more likely than their peers to battle mental and/or behavioral health issues and encounter difficult issues like homelessness, unemployment and incarceration. Foster youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are more likely to struggle with these challenges to an even greater degree.

    For all youth, statistics indicate that LGBTQ-identifying young people have a 120% higher chance of experiencing homelessness and make up 40% of the total homeless youth population in the U.S., despite composing only 7% of the total U.S. youth population.

    In 2003, Illinois DCFS became the country’s first child welfare agency to develop an LGBTQ youth policy, and later added policies that require training for those working with the care of LGBTQ youth in 2017, and clarified protections for transgender youth. Though these policies were created to ensure the protection for this often underserved population, LGBTQ youth needs are still great and require a high level of support and attention – at both federal and local levels. Here are just a few ways you can support LGBTQ youth, starting in your own community:


    Create A Safe Environment

    Though more spaces are opening up for LGBTQ youth to gather and safely come into their own, it’s necessary to make efforts to expand those safe, inclusive environments. Look into already existing programs and community centers and contact them for ways to advocate for and amplify the work they do. Seek out Southern Illinois civic centres like libraries or schools and contact them to encourage the development of LGBTQ-centered programs, create more inclusive policies, and offer supportive services that cater to LGBTQ-specific needs.

    Support LGBTQ-owned businesses

    Although donating toward causes that matter provide resources, programs, and services that can greatly benefit a specific cause, sending money doesn’t always feel like a meaningful way to show support. The good thing is, there are ways to give back to important causes like LGBTQ youth rights, on a local, yet financially impactful level. Support fundraisers, bake sales, LGBTQ-owned restaurants or stores (like Rainbow Cafe), where the proceeds go toward supporting services that uphold a mission that aligns with your values of inclusivity and equality.

    Attend LGBTQ Events

    One of the most fun ways to support LGBTQ youth in your area is by attending community events, like Metro East Pride in Belleville this Saturday, June 8th at noon on Main Street, and PrideFest 2019 in downtown St. Louis at 11am, Saturday, June 29th and Sunday, 30th. Though Carbondale, Illinois’ second annual Southern Illinois Pride Fest already occurred, the event’s Facebook page regularly posts information about upcoming events within the Southern Illinois and Missouri area, including ongoing gatherings like a parent-family support group, Unconditional, which means every third Monday of the month at Rainbow Cafe. As a proud ally and supporter of inclusion, Hoyleton Youth and Family Services hosts LGBTQ support groups. Join the next one June 26th at 5pm!  


    These are only a few small, yet meaningful ways to start supporting LGBTQ youth in your community!


  • How to Build Strong Sibling Bonds Between Biological & Foster Kids

    Foster kids and biological children are brought together to become siblings under a variety of circumstances. When a foster parent receives a new placement, they view that child as their own for the duration that the child is with them. It is imperative for each child to get along and earn a mutual respect, appreciation and love for one another.

    Regardless of the family dynamics, relationships between siblings are greatly impactful. Here’s a guide for parents to help handle these relationships:


    Start a Dialogue

    Many foster children have endured traumatic circumstances and may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms and behavioral issues, as a result. Due to this, it’s easy for parents to direct the majority of attention to the foster child and, by comparison, it can seem that biological children are “fine.” But just because biological children may not require this additional attention, it does not mean they aren’t experiencing a whirlwind of feelings prompted by this adjustment.

    According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, these feelings can include a sense of loss of family closeness, fear of physical harm or having belongings stolen, and feeling the effects of higher stress levels within the family. Families should be intentional about talking and expressing feelings at the onset to avoid building resentment that’s much harder to remove later.

    It’s important to let each child know they are being heard and that their opinion matters. By letting my children know they are heard, I am also able to see how I can be a better parent for them.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Keep It Balanced

    Life can get so busy that parents struggle to complete the daily necessities, much less adequately divide their time between the children in their homes, but even if certain mental, physical or behavioral needs skew the balance of time spent toward one child, there are other ways to ensure that each child feels equally valued.

    One simple way families do this is by holding both biological and foster children to the same standard of behavior. If special needs exist, they should be accommodated, but it’s important to avoid using either child as a positive or negative example to the other.

    Each of my children have different needs and that’s what I love about them. They are each unique in their own way.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Create Meaningful Moments

    The importance of siblings spending time together may seem obvious, but those moments of bonding can be more impactful than parents realize. Children are living through one of the most formative periods of their lives. Life’s moments and experiences are deeply felt and carried throughout life. If children are coming from a traumatic environment, creating these supportive moments is all the more valuable.

    Parents should begin new traditions with input from both children. Promoting these kinds of positive interactions creates a sense of belonging for foster children and helps biological kids adjust to the shift in family dynamic. Overall, this reinforces the family unit and creates a level of stability both biological and foster kids can benefit from.

    My husband and I made it a point to have at least one day dedicated to our family and building a strong relationship between all of our children. By doing this, it’s connecting our family together and allowing our foster children to know that they are a part of our family.” – Stephanie, Foster Mother of 10 years


    Each family dynamic is different, but we hope these tips and insights can help parents strengthen the bonds between their children. If you would like to find out more about fostering or how we support families, contact us.

  • 3 Memorial Day Weekend Activities for Southern Illinois Families

    At this time of year, we are rewarded with more warm weather,  more sunshine, and bit more time to enjoy it with those we care about. And with Memorial Day weekend kicking off, there are plenty of opportunities to make more of these good times to look back on fondly.

    Here are three great outings to enjoy during the long weekend:


    May 24th – May 25th | 34th Annual Bonifest | 4pm

    This weekend, on Friday and Saturday, St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville, IL will host two days of festivities including food, raffles, live music, carnival rides and games. This festival will take place at the parish located at the intersection of Vandalia and Buchanan Street. Come out to take part in the celebrations with loved ones of all ages! Tickets for food, drinks, and games are 80 cents in advance, and $1 at the festival. Tickets for rides are $18/24, and wristbands will be offered for Saturday from 11am – 4pm (during “Bluejay Family Day”) for $28. Purchase tickets in advance at St. Boniface Parish Office, Edwardsville KofC, Bank of Edwardsville (4 locations), Town and Country Bank, Schnucks, Dierbergs, Shop ‘n Save, Market Basket

    For more information, click here


    May 25th | The Run for Bonifest | 8:30a – 10am

    This 5-mile and 2-kilometer run is a tradition in the St. Boniface Catholic Church community, and known as “one of the oldest and largest annual race events in the Metro East.” Beginning on the church campus, this RFID-timed race takes runners from all levels throughout the scenic route of Leclaire Park, before returning to the church’s main stage on campus. Bring out the family for this fun opportunity to bond, while staying active!

    For more information, click here.  


    May 27th | Alton Memorial Day Parade | 10am – 12pm

    Beginning in 1868- just three years after the Civil War’s end – this annual parade celebrates those who served and the history of Upper Alton and Pie Town. This year’s celebration will mark the parade’s 152nd anniversary. Before the parade starts, gather friends and family together at Alton Middle School where the parade starts for a fun, yet meaningful outing!

    For more information, click here.

  • A Parent’s Guide for Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

    Talking to teens about drugs can seem intimidating, but having these conversations can be greatly impactful. Now that they’re older and have a bit more freedom, they’ll likely encounter situations or environments where drug and alcohol use are prevalent. However, parents have more influence over their kids’ choices than they know.

    Here are a few steps from our substance abuse prevention specialists that can help parents work with their teens in order to help them make smart decisions regarding drugs and alcohol.


    Regularly asking your teen questions opens up a dialogue about the things going on in their lives, which may include experiences with drugs and alcohol. Even if the subject of substance use doesn’t immediately come up, asking open ended questions creates those opportunities for be responsiveness. Additionally, knowing who their friends are and checking in on those friendships establishes a familiarity of those relationships.

    If your teen is at a party or outing where they are encouraged to use drugs or alcohol, creating a safe word (via a text or phone call) that signals they want to leave, can give them a way out of a situation that makes them uncomfortable. Because they are older and may have more responsibilities attributed to them, using an excuse like, “My parents need me to pick up my sibling” or “I need to leave early to help my grandma’ can serve as a plausible reason to exit an uncomfortable situation.

    Beyond discussing drugs and alcohol use with teens, setting expectations in the household about drug and alcohol use can be highly influential in their decision to not experiment with substances. Whether it’s the understanding that alcohol will not be consumed in the home until 21, or that cigarettes are not to be used regardless of the legal age, setting expectations promotes an understanding of acceptable standards that teens can be encouraged to uphold.

    Adolescence can be a fraught time, and teens may end up turning to substances to cope with the stress or social pressures they may be dealing with, or to gain social capital with their peers. Make a plan with your kids about new ways to cope through yoga, journaling, music, exercise, drawing, or other healthy outlets. Also, parents should be mindful of their own usage so that their teens can follow a good example. Parents prefacing a glass a wine or a can of beer with a comment about how stressful a day it was, sends a signal their kids that drinking is an appropriate way to cope with stress.

    It’s valuable to check the news and research what drug and alcohol use trends are currently popular across the teenage demographic. Despite the misconception that teens don’t want to talk to their parents, their desire to be heard will often prompt them to share. Ask teens what they know about a certain drug, what it is, and if they know anyone who’s tried it. If a child knows that their parents are aware of a certain drug, they’re less likely to try it.


    In the end, parents cannot control their kids’ actions, but through communication and preparation, they can assist them in having the right tools to make smart, informed decisions.