A call to help those in need led Jennifer Jensen and her family to pack their bags and relocate to India in 1999. There was a lot of need around them – a lot of children and families who needed aid.
A couple of years after relocating, Jensen’s husband, Clark, came across a boy who had been sold to a village as a slave, a common occurrence when parents can’t afford to care for their children. The village did not want the boy anymore and asked Clark if he would take the child with him.
The experience of trying to figure out what to do with the child was the inspiration for Global Family Care Network.
“We wanted to create an organization that would take children without biological family support and find family care, not institutional care,” Jennifer said.
In 10 years, Global Family has installed operations in eight countries: India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Canada and the U.S., including Bakersfield. Its most notable program is the Daughter Project, a sustainable, asset-based approach to the prevention of girl child trafficking and systematic abuse.
According to Jennifer, the issue of human trafficking in California has been present for a long time and while there is an issue of girls coming from overseas, there is a lot of movement taking place domestically. Kern County’s central location between large cities, as well as the Mexican border, and open space make it easy to take girls through the area.
The Global Family shelter in Bakersfield will house girls ages 12 to 17 who have been classified as commercially sexually exploited children.
“We’re the only major county in California that does not have a shelter like this yet,” Jennifer said. “It means a lot to us, personally, because this is where we’re from. Before we left Bakersfield in the ’90s, my husband and I worked in different parts in Bakersfield that weren’t so nice. ... For us coming back to Kern County and realizing that a lot of those communities haven’t changed very much and the issue of trafficking right here, it means a lot to open this (shelter) and it really means a lot to this community.”
The shelter contains eight beds in apartment-style rooms for girls in the foster care system who have been classified as CSEC who can stay for six to 12 months. An additional four beds are available for girls who need immediate crisis intervention, from girls picked up by police to those who need a place to stay for a night or two – no questions asked. Those beds are accessible for 21 days.
The 24-hour facility, complete with three live-in staff, also has a full kitchen, activity room, library and safe room.
The Bakersfield shelter is the latest step toward the mission Jennifer and Clark set out to accomplish nearly 20 years ago: providing love and homes to those who have neither, locally and domestically.
“Every child deserves a family,” Jennifer said.