The children’s charity wants local authorities to consider using specialist foster care to provide the best possible support for sexually exploited and trafficked children.
It also wants all professionals who work with children to undergo training to help them recognise and refer children at risk of being victims of either crime.
Barnardo’s says its two-year pilot project, evaluated by the University of Bedfordshire, has highlighted the benefits of specialist support for vulnerable teenage victims of sexual exploitation and child trafficking.
The study found that victims placed in specialist foster care are less likely to go missing and more likely to move on from the abuse they suffered, compared with those who do not receive focused support.
Barnardo’s claims the pilot exposed shortcomings in the care system, with low numbers of referrals from local authorities.
Michelle Lee-Izu, director of the charity, said: “The care system is failing children at high risk of being abused and exploited.
“Residential care can successfully disrupt exploitative relationships, but if it’s not managed properly, it risks compounding and exacerbating the dangers for children. Grouping the most vulnerable people together can create an easy target for perpetrators.
“We know that specialist foster care reduces the harm these children face and it is concerning that so many local authorities chose not to refer to the scheme.”
The call from the charity comes on the day the new National Crime Agency (NCA) is launched.
The NCA is the first single law enforcement agency to be responsible for a national response to serious and organised crime, with tackling child exploitation and human trafficking across UK borders key aspects of its work.
It brings together more than 4,000 officers, who all have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in England and Wales. To assist with this, they will receive specialist training in identifying the signs of child abuse, child neglect and safeguarding children.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre has merged within the NCA to become the Ceop Command.
It will work closely with the newly formed Border Policing Command – a specialist unit dedicated to strengthening national security and cracking down on the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons – to identify missing children who are taken in and out of the country.