D.A. Vance: “Phoenix Project” Begins Serving Young Survivors of Sex Trafficking Across New York City


March 1, 2021

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr., announced that beginning today, the non-profit organization The New York Foundling is supporting survivors of sex trafficking through its new child and youth sex trafficking intervention program, “the Phoenix Project.” The innovative program will serve approximately 50 to 70 young people ages 12 through 21 each year at locations across New York City. 

An Advisory Board of experts from the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, the Department of Youth and Community Development, and a range of community-based organizations and service providers helped The Foundling finalize the program’s design. The Phoenix Project is funded by a $2 million grant from the D.A.’s Office’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (“CJII”), which D.A. Vance created using millions seized in investigations against major banks.

“My Office’s commitment to fight sex trafficking doesn’t begin and end in the courtroom,” said District Attorney Vance. “Helping survivors obtain housing, health care, and education is key to putting traffickers out of business. Today, using dollars forfeited in our aggressive investigations against major banks, The Foundling’s Phoenix Project opens its doors to young survivors of sex trafficking, offering critical support and mentorship across New York City.”

“Out of the 26 sex trafficking survivors who received services at my Office last year, 23 were first trafficked when they were under 18 years old. By empowering young people to access the social services they need and deserve, the Phoenix Project aims to help prevent trafficking from occurring in the first place. We were proud to develop this initiative collaboratively with community-grounded organizations and City government partners, and we look forward to supporting The New York Foundling in its groundbreaking new project.”

Shannon Ghramm-Smith, Senior Vice President of Child Welfare and Behavioral Health at The New York Foundling said: “We are proud to announce the launch of this program, which will help young people at a high risk of being trafficked, as well as those who have previously experienced the trauma of human trafficking. The program addresses the trafficking crisis from both preventative and reactive perspectives, providing therapeutic and trauma-informed support to address past experiences, build self-esteem, and work to foster healthy life choices. The Foundling has a 150-year history of supporting the social-emotional wellbeing of children, adults, and families across New York City, and we are looking forward to building on that legacy through Phoenix Project.”

ACS Commissioner David A. Hansell said: “ACS is committed to preventing child and youth sex trafficking and to supporting survivors and those at risk. The Phoenix Project, delivered by The New York Foundling, will bring critical new resources to addressing the health and safety needs of young people, and helping them heal from trauma and move forward.  We are so pleased to have been part of the collaboration with the Manhattan DA’s Office, ENDGBV, DYCD and other partners in the planning for this new initiative and look forward to supporting this essential work.”     

Commissioner Cecile Noel of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence said:“The launch of Phoenix Project, which will focus on survivor- centered and youth-empowerment approaches, is a critical step in providing young New Yorkers who have been or are at risk of being trafficked more resources and support. Every day city agencies like ours and organizations like The New York Foundling are working hard to enhance how we identify and support survivors of human trafficking, and survivors of all domestic and gender-based violence. We are proud to partner with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and ACS to tell survivors of all domestic and gender-based violence that help is here for them and that they are never alone.”

In addition to serving young survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, the Phoenix Project will also serve young people who are at a high risk of commercial sexual exploitation. An individual may be identified as high-risk if they exhibit a history of running away, substance use, or multiple sexually transmitted infections and/or abortions.

Through a three-pronged approach of mentorship, intensive case management, and the provision of emergency and wraparound services, the Phoenix Project addresses the short-term needs (physical health care, connections to a primary care physician, crisis counseling, safety, and access to food and housing) and long-term needs (educational supports, workforce development, advocacy needs, and family support) of young survivors of sex trafficking and those who are at a high risk of exploitation.

The Phoenix Project’s group of trained mentors – many of whom have lived experience with sex trafficking – form the foundation of the program. The mentor acts as a case manager, develops a Personalized Plan of Care, and serves as the participant’s primary point of contact throughout the program to help access and navigate available services. Mentors advocate for the participants across multiple sectors including education, health and the criminal legal system.

Additional services include Cognitive Processing Therapy, Trauma-Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and “HIP Teens” (Health Improvement Project for Teens, a group-based sexual risk reduction intervention). Participants also have access to any of the resources, activities, or other programs available at The Foundling. Additionally, The Foundling offers formal linkages and referral relationships with more than 1,500 community partners to help meet participants’ needs.

The Phoenix Project’s mentors and staff can travel to any location in the City to meet with participants, or meetings can be held at any one of The Foundling’s sites:

  • Manhattan
    • 109 E. 115th Street, New York, NY 10029
    • 590 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10011
  • The Bronx
    • 170 Brown Place, Bronx, NY 10454
    • 501 Southern Blvd, Bronx, NY 10455
  • Brooklyn
    • 189 Livingston, Brooklyn, NY 11201
  • Staten Island
    • 119 Tompkins Ave, Staten Island, NY 10304

During the COVID-19 pandemic, most services will be provided virtually, but can be conducted in-person as needed. Services are free to participants, and they may stay in the program as long as they like. Survivors interested in the program can contact the Phoenix Project via email at phoenix.project@nyfoundling.org.

CJII Research and Consultation Process

The CJII plan and investments are the result of an extensive process incorporating research, data analysis, and outreach to community leaders and stakeholders conducted by CUNY ISLG. As the technical assistance provider, ISLG analyzed research in areas affecting public safety in New York City, including systemic factors at the neighborhood level that have an impact on crime, and data from a number of agencies involved in the criminal justice system. In addition, ISLG conducted extensive interviews with more than 250 experts in the criminal justice community and related fields, including clinical practitioners; leaders from philanthropic, non-profit, and grassroots organizations; representatives of local, state, and federal government agencies; academics; and elected officials. Following this process, ISLG worked with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to develop a comprehensive set of investments that, together, will have a significant, lasting impact on public safety and justice reform in New York City. ISLG will provide program oversight and performance measurement to grantees selected under CJII.

A full list of investments can be found in CJII’s 2020 Annual Report.

About The Foundling

The New York Foundling trusts in the power and potential of people, and deliberately invests in proven practices. From bold beginnings in 1869, the New York-based nonprofit has supported hundreds of thousands of its neighbors on their own paths to stability, strength, and independence. The New York Foundling’s internationally-recognized set of social services are both proven and practical. It helps children and families navigate through and beyond foster care. It helps families struggling with conflict and poverty grow strong. It helps individuals with developmental disabilities live their best lives, and helps children and families access quality health and mental health services—core to building lifelong resilience and wellbeing.