Staff’s lack of understanding is hindering fight to end trafficking, say campaigners

Despite the unique needs of trafficked children who have been
abused, traumatised and are terrified of their trafficker, there is
no guidance for social workers on how to work with them.

New research on how social services in London deal with child
trafficking finds that social workers often feel they need more
information on the issue and may have missed cases in the past
because of a lack of awareness.

The report, by campaigning group End Child Prostitution, Child
Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes UK
(Ecpat UK), is based on information from 68 individuals or teams in
33 London boroughs. It calls on the government to issue guidance
and a practice manual to social services on dealing with child

It also calls for information and guidance to be issued to those
who work outside social services, including police officers,
teachers and health professionals, who may come into contact with
trafficked children.

Report author Carron Somerset, who is also acting campaigns
co-ordinator at Ecpat UK, says the lack of guidance results in
confusion between children who are trafficked and those who are
smuggled, despite the different needs of the two groups.

Unlike smugglers, traffickers try to contact children once they are
in the UK. This in itself underlines the need for child protection
arrangements for this group.

Somerset says inadequate support is being provided to trafficked
children in a “number of cases” because of the failure of social
services departments to realise that the children are in need of
special services, such as accommodation with 24-hour staff.

Lack of appropriate accommodation for the group is also a problem.
Four months after the study was completed in December 2003, the
UK’s only safe house opened (news, page 10, 6 May). Somerset says
the government could still do more to increase awareness of the
house among local authorities.

Because of the lack of understanding about child trafficking among
professionals, it is often seen as an asylum issue rather than one
of child protection. Somerset says this problem is demonstrated in
cases where asylum teams working with trafficked children are
unknown to the children in need team at the same council.

Alison Harvey, principal policy and practice manager at the
Children’s Society, which is a member of Ecpat UK, agrees that such
confusion is common. She says that people have a mistaken belief
that trafficking is something that happens only to asylum seekers.
This could lead to authorities missing children being trafficked
who are not asylum seekers, she warns.

Harvey is also concerned about trafficking going undetected among
asylum-seeking children who are accompanied by adults. Unlike
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, who are supported by social
services, this group is supported by the National Asylum Support
Service. Harvey claims the service’s child protection procedures
are inadequate.

She backs the call for guidance, saying: “What we constantly find
is that we say to people ‘are you working with trafficked
children?’ and their reaction is ‘well I don’t know, but I’m

Somerset believes that the 35 cases of child trafficking uncovered
in her research are “just the tip of the iceberg”, and that there
are many undetected cases of children being trafficked for work as
domestic servants.

She is due to meet children’s minister Margaret Hodge next month to
discuss the guidance proposals. Perhaps, with the help of such
guidance, awareness of the issue will be raised and more of these
children will be found.

– Cause for Concern? London Social Services and Child

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