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
    trafficking.

    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
    worried’.”

    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
    Trafficking
    from www.ecpat.org.uk

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