Sixty Second Interview with Christine Beddoe
By Amy Taylor
Last week saw the launch of the first ever draft protocol on safeguarding trafficked children in London. Amy Taylor talks to Christine Beddoe, director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes UK, about the new guidance.
What will this protocol, which was published by the London Child Protection Committee, mean for agencies working with children in the capital?
The subject of child trafficking is very new for many practioners and there is still a lot of confusion around the issue. This is compounded by the fact that there is not yet an overarching national strategy on child trafficking. London has always been vulnerable to child trafficking. With major airports and railways stations we know that vulnerable children are arriving almost everyday in the capital from all around the world. The LCPC Procedure for Safeguarding Trafficked and Exploited Children is an excellent framework for the identification of; and actions to safeguard child victims of trafficking. It specifically provides guidance on what agencies need to be advised and what information to document and share internally and with others.
Why is it needed?
The trafficking of children is a multi-faceted problem requiring co-ordination and information-sharing across a wide range of agencies, including voluntary sector agencies. Children who have been trafficked often suffer the most horrendous abuses including rape, physical violence, threats to their family, abandonment and extreme levels of stress.
Combining this with high levels of fear and mistrust and the controlling tactics of traffickers it is internationally accepted that victims of trafficking will often take a long period to recover from their experience.
Disclosure will only usually happen when the child feels safe, secure and believed. Identification of a child victim of trafficking requires a proactive and sensitive approach by all agencies who have contact with vulnerable children from abroad. Action should be taken upon suspicion of trafficking rather than waiting for full disclosure. This requires increased awareness, training, guidance, co-ordination of services, information sharing protocols, and collection of data.
Do you anticipate that the London-wide protocol could lead to one being created for the whole of the UK?
We are hopeful that the LCPC Procedure for Safeguarding Trafficking Children could be rolled out across the UK. This would be a fantastic achievement.
The protocol tells social workers to check the documents of adults they are interviewing when trafficking is suspected. How will this help to identify trafficked children?
Trafficked children come into the country as both unaccompanied and accompanied. Accompanying adults need to be scrutinised to ensure that they are who they say they are and that they are acting in the child’s best interest. Trafficking can also be hidden under private fostering. Children are trafficked for several reasons including domestic servitude – house slaves – and it is the adults in these cases that need to be identified and punished. Sometimes the adults will be present when children are being interviewed. Proving the relationship between the child and the adult is essential to uncover and disrupt child trafficking.
It also calls for health visitors and nurses visiting children at home to be “alert to the rapid turnover of different children at one any address”. Given their access to peoples’ homes do these professionals have a key role to play in tackling child trafficking?
Health visitors and nurses are in an extremely important position to look out for indicators of trafficking or exploitative situations in the household, including the physical and emotional relationship of the child to adults and other children in the home.
GP’s and A & E staff also play a vital roll in helping to identify and treat child victims of trafficking. Vulnerable children suffering STI’s, signs of physical and sexual violence, pregnancies, or having an adult request a termination should start to raise questions about the likelihood of trafficking and exploitation.
Is child trafficking a greater problem in London compared to the rest of the UK?
Child trafficking is a UK wide problem. However, London has been and will continue to be a favorable destination to traffickers as it is a major transport hub, including airports and Waterloo and Victoria train stations, it has a large drugs and vice environment and a huge and diverse population where children can easily be hidden away from sight. It is also a target because of the presence of the Asylum Screening Unit at Croydon, one of only 2 places in the UK where asylum applications are processed. It is impossible to say whether there are more children trafficked into and through London than anywhere else. However Operation Paladin Child, run by The Metropolitan Police several years ago showed just how many unaccompanied children come through Heathrow Airport each week. 1,738 non-asylum seeking unaccompanied minors were detected by Operation Paladin over three months in 2003 and a further 166 unaccompanied minors claimed asylum on arrival and were either sent to a UK address or looked after by social services. It is unknown how many of these children may have been trafficked however 12 of these children could not be traced by social services after the three month operation.