Posted: 20 September 2012

Finding care and support for trafficked children who go missing from care

Hundreds of trafficked children go missing from care across the country each year. How to tackle this problem was the subject of a roundtable discussion in Parliament earlier this month chaired by Ann Coffey MP and supported by us.

The meeting brought together local authorities, central government agencies and child protection experts to discuss how to take forward recommendations from the joint All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) inquiry into children going missing from care. 

That inquiry, which we supported, found that 60% of suspected child victims of trafficking in local authority care go missing from care. Of them, most victims go missing within one week of being in care and many within 48 hours. Once they go missing, almost two-thirds of these children are never found.

Safe accommodation for trafficked children

Among its recommendations, the inquiry called for a pilot scheme to train specialist foster carers to be rolled out nationally. This scheme, run by the Department for Education and Barnardo's, will help support trafficked children and prevent them from going missing. 

These foster carers will be trained to identify and respond to trafficked children’s needs, and how to keep them safe. Roundtable participants, however, highlighted the difficulties in engaging local authorities with the scheme and recruiting foster carers.

Participants also debated the provision of safe houses and secure accommodation to prevent trafficked children from going missing. However, many felt that this type of ‘protective custody’ risks losing children’s trust and reinforcing the frightening experience and manipulation that they were subjected to at the hands of their traffickers.

More accurate data on trafficked children missing from care

The APPG inquiry report also recommended the creation of a comprehensive and independent national system of data collection on trafficked children. 

Evidence collected by the inquiry highlighted that only two of the 64 local authorities that provided information to the panel said they collected data on whether children who ran away were suspected victims of trafficking. 

Roundtable participants agreed that there needs to be better information sharing between local authorities, the police and those agencies who decide if a child is a victim of trafficking. Enver Solomon, our Policy Director, however, felt that it should be local authorities who take the lead in data collection as the responsible agency for child protection.

Legal advocates and support for trafficked children

Participants also discussed the inquiry’s recommendation for a legal advocate with parental responsibility to be appointed for all unaccompanied migrant children. 

As Ann Coffey MP, Chair pointed out, there is currently no one person who is on the side of the trafficked child when they enter the care system to prevent them from going missing. Many other countries, including Scotland, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, have a system of independent advocates or guardians in place. 

Participants felt that the UK needs to learn from good practice both here and abroad. Enver Solomon recommended that the voluntary sector come together to put forward a proposal to the government around legal guardians. 

Although protecting trafficked children raises many complex issues, participants agreed that change is urgently needed. Without swift action we run the risk of exposing more children further abuse and exploitation. 

By Mubena Abdul-Rahim, Public Affairs Volunteer

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By Mubena Abdul-Rahim - Policy team

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