In an Upside-Down World, We’re Thankful for Innovation

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The saying “may you live in interesting times” certainly rang true in 2020. Though the COVID-19 pandemic brought unexpected challenges, we are grateful for the opportunities it has brought us to innovate in the face of the unknown. As we reflect on this year throughout the season of thanksgiving, we’re thankful for the creative ways Voices for Florida and our Open Doors Outreach Teams have adapted to this crisis most of all. In many ways, the changes will have a lasting impact on the way we operate long after this pandemic is over.

Continuous Communication as the Open Doors Backbone Organization

At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in Florida, we moved to virtual work and quickly increased our communication with Open Doors Outreach Teams to disseminate the latest health recommendations rapidly. During these new twice weekly virtual check-ins, our Open Doors Outreach team members also interchanged ideas on how to continue serving sex trafficked children and young adults in new ways, such as implementing therapeutic activities over Zoom or conducting drive-by parades to lift survivors’ spirits.

These new methods of communication have reinvigorated the trauma-competent care offered. They have also empowered those served to reach out to the Open Doors Outreach Teams more frequently, outside of scheduled appointments. Our team members reported that many of those served even expressed preference for virtual communication. We’re so thankful to have found new, effective ways to support survivors during the pandemic and beyond.

Virtual Trainings to Promote Professional Development

This year Voices adapted our June Core Training and Fall Cohort Trainings to a virtual environment to continue fostering professional development within the Open Doors Outreach Teams. Core trainings are offered twice per year, and attended by all Open Doors team members to both learn and collaborate with their counterparts across the state. Cohort trainings are held individually for the Survivor-Mentors, Regional Advocates and Clinicians and the topics covered are specific to their role in the Network.

With the power of technology, we hosted several virtual trainings complete with subject-matter experts from across the state, breakout rooms for smaller discussions and interactive activities all without leaving the comfort of our homes! These innovative education and training opportunities included information on the intersection of trauma and substance use, collaboration with law enforcement and alternative wellness and healing. Many of the guest speakers tailored their presentations to facilitate important conversations around how to best serve sex trafficked children during these uncertain times. While nothing can replace the face-to-face interaction our in-person trainings offer, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide continued education to enhance Open Doors services.

Innovative Funding Mechanisms

Finally, it’s been truly inspiring to see how foundations and local governments have innovated to meet the increased needs of sex trafficked children during this health crisis. From reduced funding restrictions that allow for additional monetary support, to hosting food and supply drives that help Open Doors meet basic needs and much more, sex trafficked children and young adults have not been forgotten amongst the chaos.

While we are grateful for this community support, there is still so much more that needs to be done to support this population. Children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to exploitation as they spend more time online, a hunting ground for traffickers. Those most vulnerable need community members like you to help us continue to innovate services for this population. Please consider supporting sex trafficked children during the season of giving thanks.

Living through these interesting times has reaffirmed for us that we do our best work when adapting to new challenges. Through this pandemic, Voices has enhanced our backbone support and the Open Doors Outreach Teams have learned new methods of supporting survivors of sex trafficking. Across the network, Open Doors has succeeded in connecting with this population through new and innovative methods, and we are grateful for all who have supported us and those we serve. Because of you, we can continue to create the change needed for children’s futures to be as limitless as their dreams.

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About the Author

Robyn Metcalf

Robyn Metcalf is the statewide director of the Open Doors Outreach Network, a 24/7/365 network of care for victims and survivors of sex trafficking age 10-24 in 32 Florida counties.

Metcalf received her Bachelor of Social Work degree, Masters of Social Work (MSW) with a concentration in Social Policy and Administration and Masters of Public Administration (MPA) from Florida State University. She was named a 2020 Notable Nole from the Florida State University Alumni Association, recognizing graduates that have made exceptional achievements and significant contributions to his or her profession, community/society or the university. In 2016, the College of Social Work recognized Robyn with the Distinguished Young Alumni Award, a prestigious award recognizing outstanding graduates within the past 10 years who have demonstrated significant leadership and exceptional contributions to social work.

Metcalf is a former Guardian ad Litem, Relay for Life of North Leon Leadership Committee Member, Volunteer Training Assistant with 211 Big Bend, and is a current member of the Junior League of Tallahassee. She also serves as Treasurer for the Florida State University College of Social Work Alumni Group.