Trafficked children let down by system-wide support failures

Joe Lepper
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Victims of child trafficking are being let down through "a culture of doubt and suspicion" across the justice and social care systems, according to a damning report by the Refugee Council and the Children's Society.

Report found opportunities to support victims were regularly missed by agencies. Image: The Children's Society, Melissa Elsey/posed by models
Report found opportunities to support victims were regularly missed by agencies. Image: The Children's Society, Melissa Elsey/posed by models

The report, funded by the Home Office, found many trafficked children were being either sent to adult prisons or immigration detention centres rather than offered support and care due to doubts over their real age.

The report, Still at Risk: A review of support for trafficked children, found that opportunities to support victims were regularly missed by immigration officials and police.

Social work teams were also criticised for inconsistent support to help victims come to terms with their ordeal and keep them safe. This left them at risk of going missing and falling prey to further exploitation and trafficking.

Refugee Council chief executive Maurice Wren said: “This report helps us to understand what support is needed to help children recover from their horrific experiences and learn to build trusting relationships with adults again.

“The current system is not doing this adequately. We need to get better at looking for the signs, helping children to escape and making sure that they no longer need to fear their traffickers.”

Victim’s vulnerability is heightened through not being able to speak English or having an advocate to help co-ordinate their care and support, the report found. Researchers spoke to one victim who did not know what country they were in.

Often they had spent time as domestic slaves, had been sexually exploited or were forced to commit crime.

Children’s Society chief executive Matthew Reed said: “It is vital that trafficked children are treated as victims of a crime, and not as criminals, by professionals responsible for their safety and welfare.”

Immigration minister Mark Harper said the government would now “look carefully at its findings” and will be updating trafficking legislation through its Modern Slavery Bill.

He added: “We are committed to eliminating this abhorrent crime and recognise it will take time, effort and people at every level of society doing what they can to help.”

This latest research involved interviews with 17 victims of child trafficking and 18 professionals who work with victims.

Maggie Atkinson, the Children’s Commissioner for England, described the report's  findings as “depressingly familiar”.

“There remains a lack of awareness of trafficking among professionals who come into contact with these young people. There is also a tendency for services to see them as ‘immigrants’, or even ‘illegal immigrants’, rather than as exploited children,” she added.

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