About 150 people from more than 50 organizations gathered at the Carrillo Recreation Center on July 16 for the annual Youth Safety and Wellness Summit. Trauma was this year’s theme. The summit was organized by the South Coast Task Force on Youth Safety that was created in 2007 after the stabbing of 15-year-old Luis Angel Linares on State Street. The task force is a collaborative effort between community organizations to improve the safety and well-being of youth in the community.
The daylong event included breakout sessions on commercial sexual exploitation of children, suicide prevention, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Sexual abuse has happened to 80-90 percent of victims of sexual exploitation, reported Sally Cook, cofounder of Hope Refuge, an anti-trafficking organization. Childhood trauma is also leading to an increase in suicide attempts, said Anthony Rodriguez with the Santa Barbara Response Network. “Nobody wants to talk about it,” he said, “but it’s so important to know we have feelings.”
Before a wrap-up of the event, a teen panel was invited to share firsthand accounts of growing up and accessing local resources. The youth, all in their late teens, told stories of family hardship and poverty. “There were a lot of challenges, financially, emotionally, and physically, too,” said Paula, a senior at San Marcos High School who grew up on the Westside. Each teen had found refuge in a group or organization that had helped heal their trauma. The teens offered suggestions to better reach out and serve the community. Jose, 18, a graduate of Santa Barbara High School and current SBCC student, suggested reaching out to kids sooner. “It was not until high school that anyone asked, ‘Are you okay?’” he said. “It’s hard for kids to get help when it’s not presented to them.”