Many local authorities are failing to safeguard victims of child trafficking due to a lack of guidance from central government and insufficient local expertise, campaigners have warned.
Ecpat UK and the Children’s Society are urging ministers to issue clearer guidelines on supporting and accommodating the hundreds of children trafficked into the UK each year.
The charities want more training to be rolled out nationally to close what they describe as a significant skills gap in responding to suspected cases.
Risk of abduction from council care
Christine Beddoe, director of Ecpat UK, said children remained at risk of being contacted and abducted by traffickers even from the apparent safety of local authority care.
She said the Department for Children, Schools and Families should update its 2007 guidance for professionals, Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked, and issue minimum standards for accommodation.
“Some councils are choosing the cheapest option of unsupervised accommodation, leaving children and young people at risk,” she said. “We want a good practice guide with practical steps on managing their safety.”
Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children’s Society, raised concerns about variations in councils’ approaches.
“There should be a debate informed by children’s services departments on what constitutes safe accommodation,” she said.
Specialist foster care preference
Both charities indicated a preference for more specialist foster care. Nandy added that foster carers needed special training for the “daunting” challenge of dealing with trafficked children, brought into the country for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and other forms of abuse.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said there was a need to share good practice in dealing with trafficking. Its lead on child trafficking, Pauline Newman, said it was “a relatively newly identified challenge for agencies”.
A study by government agency the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre identified 325 potential child trafficking victims in the UK in 2007-8.
A spokesperson for the DCSF said the government’s strategy on identifying and safeguarding trafficked children was contained in the UK action plan on human trafficking, published in 2007 and updated last year. He said the action plan was under review again, which would lead to the development of best practice.