Government delays extension of child trafficking advocates scheme
Friday, December 18, 2015
The government has delayed plans to roll out a child trafficking advocate scheme across England and Wales.
The move had already been trialled in 23 council areas and a national roll out was among provisions in this year’s Modern Slavery Act.
But the Home Office’s child trafficking policy team said there is “work still to be done”, particularly around preventing children going missing and engaging with justice officials. It is to arrange a meeting with stakeholders in the new year to discuss how it will "take this work forward”.
It adds that it is committed to introducing child trafficking advocates "but we want to get the response right”.
The decision comes as the government releaed its report on the evaluation of the advocates’ trial, which took place between September 2014 and September 2015 and involved 158 children.
This found that the role was seen as positive by most professionals and children, and advocates were praised for acting in the best interests of children. “The children felt listened to and valued,” the evaluation added.
However, during the trial 15 children who were assigned an advocate were listed as permanently missing as it ended, compared to 12 who were not assigned one. However, the report highlights that seven of the children assigned an advocate who were missing had never actually met their advocate because of delays in the local authority referring the case.
The government’s decision to delay expansion of the scheme has been criticised by child trafficking and exploitation prevention charity ECPAT UK.
Chloe Setter, ECPAT’s head of advocacy, policy and campaigns, said: “We are very concerned to hear that the government has not heeded the very clear benefits of independent advocates for trafficked children, as evidenced in the independent evaluation.
“Most disappointingly, the voices of children – who overwhelmingly found having an advocate to be hugely beneficial – have not been listened to.
“This was an opportunity to commit to a system that has been shown to add value to existing child protection services and give added protection to children who have been exploited.”
Other concerns the government had from the trial were “limited evidence” that advocates had helped children to engage with the criminal justice system as witnesses or with immigration officials.
“These were important issues where we had hoped independent child trafficking advocates would have had a beneficial impact,” the government’s report added.