Today is Anti-Slavery Day, and it falls in a week when we have been talking to parliamentarians about how trafficked children are supported. In September, we published Still at Risk; a report with our partners The Children’s Society which examines the experiences of trafficked children in England.
In 2012, 549 children were identified as being trafficked, but given the hidden nature of child trafficking, this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
Our research was funded by the Home Office, and drew upon the experiences of trafficked children and those involved in their care such as social workers, staff from voluntary sector organisations and solicitors. We found that too many trafficked children are not being adequately protected by the agencies that are supposed to be supporting them.
The research highlighted that sometimes the response to potential child victims of trafficking was to punish rather than protect. Some trafficked children in the research had been sent to adult prisons and immigration detention centres, rather than being placed in safe accommodation because their ages were questioned and signs of trafficking were not recognised.
Only a minority of the children were happy with the care and support they had received from their social workers. They often had encountered multiple social workers or key workers, resulting in little continuity of care and children having to frequently repeat their stories of the traumatic abuse and exploitation they had experienced.
“When I went to social services I didn’t have a social worker and my case was from one person to another person so I didn’t really know who I’m going to talk to because I didn’t have no-one who really knew my case” Josephine
Once children escaped their exploiters, they entered a bewildering system involving many different people from a range of agencies. This was incredibly confusing for many of these young children, particularly given the fact that some did not know which country they were in, could not speak English and may not recognise their experiences as being exploitative. These children were not in a position to be able to argue for the care they needed.
“I didn’t understand what the social workers were saying because they talked too fast with too many new words. I was tired of all the appointments, talking and repeating words. I lost hope. Sorry but the thing is they do say it, a lot of paperwork they give you, you can’t read it.” Frances
We are delighted that on Anti Slavery Day, more details are emerging about the Modern Slavery Bill that the government intends to make law in this session of parliament. We agree that urgent measures need to be introduced to try to tackle modern slavery, but we want to see a focus not just on the perpetrators, but also those who have been exploited.
We would like to see a system of protection that includes an independent trusted adult appointed to a child as soon as they come to an authority’s attention.
This person would ensure that all potential victims of trafficking are able to understand their rights, ensure that their voice is heard in decisions that affect them and are supported effectively through the different legal processes that they are engaged in.
A child’s uncertain immigration status should not compromise the care and protection they receive – they should be treated as children first.