Minister reveals delay to trafficking victims' advocate pilots

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A pilot to provide independent advocates to child trafficking victims will take place in 23 councils from September, two months after it was originally planned to go live.

In response to a written question on the trials, Home Office minister Karen Bradley said 23 councils with high rates of trafficking referrals have agreed to take part.

The government is now considering a number of bids from voluntary and community services to provide the service.

But when asked about the timescale in the House of Lords this week Home Office minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach revealed that the original start date of July would not now be possible. Instead the government has pencilled in late September for the pilot launch.

With providers still not in place there was now not enough time for a summer launch, he said, adding “because of the delay it will not now be possible to begin the trials by July. It is now intended that they begin by the end of September, and the Home Secretary will announce the provider shortly”.

If the trials are successful an independent advocate is expected to become a legal right for victims in the forthcoming Modern Slavery Bill.

Lord Taylor said the pilots will be “robustly evaluated” and the government is “in the process of commissioning comprehensive and independent evaluation”.

Evaluators will report after the first six months as well as at the end of the year-long trial. Issues being looked at include funding and barriers to offering effective support.

Lord Taylor added: “There is a general feeling that we know we have to make a success of this because it is a great opportunity to help these most vulnerable people. It is patently obvious to me that we share the desire to protect and support these vulnerable children.”

Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns (child trafficking) at campaign group Ecpat UK, said the pilot is “a big step forward” in support for victims but reiterated warnings that advocates need to be given legal guardian status to be effective.

She said: “The advocates proposed are not legal guardians and do not have the much-needed powers to instruct solicitors on behalf of children, to make decisions in their best interests or to hold authorities to account.
“These are not added extras but vital safeguards in the protection and care of trafficked children, who need someone with legal responsibility for them after what is often years of grooming, abuse and exploitation.”

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