Children and young people trafficked into the UK, or exploited after their arrival, are struggling to get help from authorities responsible for their welfare, according to new research from The Children’s Society.
Some say that even when they do alert frontline professionals including the police, teachers and social workers, many are unwilling to help, disbelieve the seriousness of their situation or do not know where to refer them for advice.
Whilst recent media reports have claimed that the problem of trafficking has been overstated, this new report, Hidden Children, brings into startling perspective the very real problems faced by children separated from their carers and exploited and mistreated by those responsible for them in the UK.
The extent of child trafficking and the precise number of victims in the UK remains unknown and contested. However, The Children's Society’s research, which highlights 34 case studies and provides direct input from a further 12 former hidden children, demonstrates the reality of the trauma faced by those young people trafficked into the UK.
It challenges the stereotype that portrays these children as being entirely hidden away from society. In reality many actually attend school, church, or GP clinics, but feel too afraid to admit the abuse. As a result the indications that they are being exploited are not picked up or acted upon by professionals.
A few of the young people in this study were known to children’s services while still in the abusive situations and experienced monitoring by Local Authority private fostering teams. Quotes from young people included:
“Useless. So many opportunities and they missed it”
“Sometimes the social workers would ask the questions when the guardians were there”
“Mainly they asked the guardians the questions, and then they asked them to get out of the room and asked me questions. I had 5 or 6 of them. Every 6 weeks they would change. They check about “Did you have a good day at school, but never ’Where did you sleep’.”
Hidden Children provides a wake-up call to teachers, social workers, third sector organisations and the police. The report stresses that it is vital for the authorities to co-operate to help trafficked children get access to their rights and entitlements, and certainty about their immigration status, if hidden children to move forward after escaping the exploitative situation.
It calls for multi-agency safeguarding training to be given to local agencies, including education, health, voluntary sector and social workers, police and representatives of faith communities. The training should be geared towards improving networks of communication between the agencies in order to increase the chances of helping hidden children to move away from abusive situations as quickly as possible.
The report also recommends:
· Once the young person has been discovered and settled in a stable placement, with a specialised, experienced foster carer, they should receive an explanation of their options for the future, including about their immigration status
· Hidden children should be made aware of future risks of exploitation, as well as being made aware of their rights and entitlements
· They should be offered therapeutic support as well as peer group support
Lisa Nandy, Policy Adviser for The Children's Society, commented: “Whilst sexual exploitation may be the most high profile form of trafficking, young people can be, and have been, exploited in a number of different ways, including forced labour and domestic servitude. All of these children are extremely vulnerable, and the agencies need to work together to identify and support these victims”.
A young person who took part in the research, a girl trafficked into a brothel, explained her experience: “They said if I ran away and they got me, they would hit me. They said do not run away. That made me scared”.
For more information and case studies, please contact Rafi Cooper at The Children's Society’s media office on 020 7841 4422, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editor
The Children’s Society
The Children’s Society is a leading children’s charity committed to making childhood better for all children in the UK; www.childrenssociety.org.uk