Children of the Immaculate Heart offers a housing and rehabilitation program for adult women and their children and sought to expand their services to include a short-term residential therapeutic program for sex-trafficked youth. When the ministry ran into licensing issues due to religious discrimination at the California Department of Social Services, the national not-for-profit public interest attorneys initiated legal action.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna, stated, “We are pleased that we were able to resolve this important litigation matter. This paves the way for Children of the Immaculate Heart to provide a safe place and loving care for dozens of youth for many years to come.”
The social service ministry was originally denied a license by the California Department of Social Services, which voiced concerns over the group’s Christian mission, prompting the attorneys to file a lawsuit. The case asserted constitutional violations in connection with Children of the Immaculate Heart’s pending license application. The lawsuit, filed November 19, 2019 in California Superior Court, was resolved and a provisional license was issued on June 10, 2020, clearing the path for preparations to open the dedicated youth facility.
Once Children of the Immaculate Heart obtained a provisional license, the organization could begin providing therapeutic services and support for trafficked youth referred by the San Diego County Department of Probation and Child Welfare Services. The Refuge offers a six-month intensive program for sex-trafficked youth who need intensive trauma-informed care. Services include targeted mental health treatment, family relationship building, developing life skills such as self-care and job readiness, and academic success counseling. The January 2021 finalization of the purchase of a four-bedroom home in North County now gives The Refuge assurance that its doors will stay open long-term.
“Social service began in the ministry of the Church,” noted Jonna. “Children of the Immaculate Heart has a wonderful track record of success working with adult women, but the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 15. And there are an estimated 10,000-plus victims in San Diego annually. We trust that the State of California will welcome Children of the Immaculate Heart’s expansion.”