Posted: 25 April 2012

MPs investigate why trafficked children go missing from care

The facts around trafficked children are chilling. Hundreds of children who go missing from care and are never found – and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. 

Trafficked children from all over the world are so successfully groomed and manipulated by their traffickers that many run back to them within 48 hours of being placed in care. The majority are never found again.

These are just some of the facts a panel of MPs heard yesterday during the first public evidence session of an APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) Inquiry into children going missing from care. 

Shocking evidence about these vulnerable young people was reported from a number of witnesses, including our practitioners, as well as supporting organisations ECPAT UK, the Refugee Council, the Counter Human Trafficking Bureau (CHTB), Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), lawyers and local authorities.

'A failure of the intelligence community'

The true scale of how many trafficked children go missing and are never found is not known. Local authorities and the police do not collect comprehensive data on these children, and what is collected is not shared. 

The current situation, according to Chris Beddoe, Chief Executive of ECPAT results from 'a failure of the intelligence community'.

The panel heard how progress has been made in local areas where agencies work together but that this good practice is not being implemented across the country or shared. 

Witnesses suggested that responsibility for tackling the problem should lie with LSCBs (local safeguarding children’s boards) and with the new National Crime Agency

Failing to protect trafficked children

The panel heard how a key trigger to these children running away is that they are placed in inappropriate, unsupervised accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hostels where they can be targeted by their traffickers. 

In spite of the child protection frameworks in place, witnesses revealed how children are being let down by local authorities who see child trafficking as an immigration control issue and due to limited resources give these vulnerable children a sub-standard level of care which leaves them even more at risk.

'The child protection framework for trafficked children is not working' said Philip Ishola, Director of CHTB.

'Children need long-term support and one person to turn to'

One witness said: 'Child trafficking is a form of child abuse and should be seen as such.'

There was consensus from all witnesses that the key to stopping trafficked children going missing is long-term therapeutic support and care to help them feel safe and break the bonds with their trafficker. 

It was suggested that this should be provided in the form of a national network of specialist foster carers who can deliver the support and care these vulnerable children need. 

Practitioners such as Bali Hothi, a Senior Practitioner with our West Midlands Refugee programme, felt that trafficked children need one person they can turn to who can help them navigate the complex and competing immigration and trafficking systems, act in their best interests, help them feel safe and empower them to move on from the trauma they have suffered.

Hothi said: 'Children need long-term support and one person to turn to.' 

Upcoming sessions

Three other oral evidence sessions looking at children going missing from care will be held over the next two weeks. 

Led by two parliamentary groups, the inquiry aims to develop a report that contains a practical set of recommendations to address the problem of children going missing from care. The report will be launched in June.

By Natalie Williams, Policy Officer


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By Natalie Williams - Policy team

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