Practical tips for working with children who have been trafficked

Expert advice for social workers on this complex area of practice

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Child trafficking is one of the most complex areas of practice for social workers. Children are trafficked to and within the UK for a range of reasons, such as criminal, sexual and labour exploitation, and for domestic servitude. There is no one fixed model for trafficking children; children can be brought into the country legally with a visa, or illegally through clandestine means. And our knowledge is restricted by the fact that children are often unable to give us a complete account of what happened, and convictions for trafficking are scarce.

Swati Pande, social worker, practice educator and assistant manager of the NSPCC’s Child Trafficking Advice Centre, has written Community Care Inform’s guide to the types of exploitation and risk indicators for child trafficking. Here, we present some of the key tips from Pande’s guide to aid social workers in their practice in potential trafficking cases. Community Care Inform subscribers can read the full article here and explore our knowledge and practice hub on the issue.

  1. A child may first disclose the form of exploitation that is easiest for them to talk about, and then gradually talk about more painful experiences. Make careful notes about what is disclosed and your professional opinion about it. This will support the young person in the long run, especially if they’re also subject to immigration control. During the asylum process, a child’s credibility can sometimes be challenged because their disclosure has been made in installments. Your notes and professional understanding will help support the child and aid others in understanding processes of disclosure.
  2. In your case records, avoid using phrases like “claim”, “alleged” or that the child “decided” to move to the UK. These can create doubt about a child’s credibility, and neglect the role of the traffickers. It is crucial to remember that a child cannot give “informed consent” to their own exploitation.
  3. The child or young person may be scared of traffickers and potential consequences for their family in their country of origin. Listen with empathy; what may seem implausible to a professional in the UK may be a very real threat to a child from another country. Don’t offer unrealistic assurances about safety or resources. Instead, listen to them, allow them to express fear and encourage them to keep working with you and other professionals.
  4. Assess every case on its own merit. In some instances, approaching the child’s family, friends or those with influence within the community can pose a risk to the child. Don’t raise concerns about trafficking directly with any accompanying adult.
  5. Children with few or no protective factors in their environment are vulnerable to all forms of abuse. Approach every case with an open mind, and look for factors that would make a child safe from or vulnerable to different types of exploitation.

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