Steps in the right direction for trafficked children
The government recently made two important announcements this week that have the potential to make real change to the lives of child victims of trafficking and other separated children in the UK. They are:
- a new scheme of ‘specialist advocates’ to be trialled for six months across a number of local authorities in England. Under the scheme each child victim of trafficking will be allocated an advocate independent of the local authority with specialist training and expertise in trafficking who will provide support and guidance, will act as a single point of contact throughout the care and immigration process and will be responsible for promoting the child's safety and wellbeing.
- a consultation on the draft regulations and new statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children
Both these developments are significant. Based on our work over the last 15 years of directly supporting migrant children in the UK who have been separated from their families, we know that these children often fall through the gaps and don’t get the protection and support they need and are entitled to in law.
Someone on their side
We have long argued that all separated children – including those who have been trafficked – should have access to an independent guardian. This guardian could support them through the complex legal systems – the immigration and care system, and in some cases the criminal justice system – to ensure their safety and welfare is promoted.
This is important because these children are inherently vulnerable and need to have someone on their side. They are alone in a foreign country where they often don’t speak the language or understand that culture, and have no-one who has parental responsibility looking out for them. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and many other bodies recognise the need for special protection in the form of guardians.
We are pleased to see the government taking a step in the right direction to trial the approach of 'independent advocates' for trafficked children. However in order to be effective, guardians should be made available to all separated children, which is common practice in other European countries and is currently the case in Scotland. It’s also important that guardians have a statutory footing, and we are calling for this provision to be included in the modern slavery bill.
New guidance to local authorities
The new statutory guidance and the amended regulations are also an important step forward in sending a clear message that these are children first and foremost, and need to be protected irrespective of where they come from. The draft guidance states:
The Children Act 1989 requires that local authorities perform their duties under these regulations for all children, regardless of their immigration status, nationality or documentation.
This is an important point as we find that the children and young people from abroad who we support are turned away from vital services including local authority care precisely for these reasons.
While there is still much work to be done, these announcements are positive steps forward. We will be working with government to ensure that a system of independent guardians is made a reality for all separated children, giving them not only a voice in a complex system, but someone who is on their side, who can help advocate for them in the way that a parent could, and who will make sure that their best interests - both their immediate welfare and their long term interests - are kept centre stage.