The Government has pledged to re-design a new service aimed at helping to protect child victims of trafficking following a pilot programme which had mixed success.
In the UK, many children who are potential victims of trafficking go missing when under the care of children’s services. Children are often not identified as victims and can be inappropriately treated as criminals themselves, thus preventing them from receiving the care and protection they are entitled to and desperately need.
The Refugee Council works to support and protect children who are trafficked into the UK and exploited and we have long been concerned about the care and support they receive.
Last year, following a sustained campaign for better protection for trafficking victims, the Government announced it would trial a system of independent advocates to provide specialist support and ensure that the child’s voice was heard as their case progressed through the care, immigration and/or criminal justice systems.
The advocates would be independent of statutory services and would have the necessary knowledge and skills to ensure that the child’s needs were fully met and their best interests represented.
After a year in operation, the advocacy service has been independently evaluated with experts examining the implementation and effectiveness of the scheme.
In their report, the evaluators have echoed the Refugee Council’s own concerns about the design of the service, including how children are referred and what training and regulation is required. The report also underlines the importance of advocates’ independence from other services.
Crucially, the experts acknowledged that children who had been trafficked into the UK often required additional advocacy support.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “Any unaccompanied child going through immigration proceedings faces a complex, bewildering and often frightening process where their best interests may be overlooked.
“It’s vital that all separated children, not just victims of trafficking, are assigned a dedicated advocate who will make sure that they’re properly protected and that their voice is heard.”
In the last year, Scotland and Northern Ireland have passed legislation which assigns all separated children an independent guardian to safeguard their interests but such rights are not yet available to children in England.
Following on from the evaluation of the trafficking advocates’ trial, the Government has pledged to re-think the service’s design in consultation with NGOs including the Refugee Council, and other experts, before rolling it out nationally.