SOLID progress has been made since the Modern Slavery Act 2015 came into law, but significant concerns remain about the rising numbers of child victims of trafficking, a new report concludes.
Although the data on child trafficking in the UK are incomplete, the number of potential victims identified is rising annually. In 2020, 4946 children were recognised as potential victims of exploitation in the UK — almost ten per cent more than in 2019.
The report, Practitioner Responses to Child Trafficking: Emerging good practice, launched on Monday and published jointly by the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (IASC) and Cumberland Lodge, was written by a researcher from the University of Oxford, Ailish Saker.
It follows a cross-disciplinary conference of practitioners, academics, policymakers, and survivors, in October 2021, supported by an specialist steering committee, and makes ten practical recommendations to improve the response to child trafficking. It says that the response needs to be child-centred, culturally competent, contextual, and collaborative.
“There was a clear consensus across many practitioners that the current response is failing those who are vulnerable to, and are victims of, child trafficking,” the report says. “Nevertheless, there are numerous examples and models of best practice operating throughout the United Kingdom, which have the potential to be scaled up and replicated across all local areas.”
The researchers identified core values that linked good practice. “These values need to be entrenched into every sector that responds to victims of child trafficking, and to young people generally. It was agreed that a child-centred, or public-health approach, would be the most effective whole-system response to child trafficking and modern slavery.”
Modern slavery is an outcome of “systematic and structural harms, such as poverty and racism, operating within the UK and elsewhere”, the report says. This means that some young people and communities are affected disproportionately by exploitation, and yet have limited access to support services.
Practitioners need to “root out unconscious bias and prejudice within institutions” when approaching the issue, the report says. They need to understand the context in which the abuse is happening, and work collaboratively with other agencies to provide a package of joined-up support.
The report flags concerns about safeguarding for child victims of trafficking, challenges around discrimination, racism, a lack of awareness and training on the needs of trafficked children in the UK, inconsistent practice when supporting trafficked children, gaps in the data, and a lack of support for young people making the transition into adulthood, when they are at increased risk of being re-trafficked.
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, emphasised a need to hear the voices of survivors in forming an appropriate response.
“This . . . report sets out the opportunities to share and replicate good practice in the identification and care of young people who have experienced trafficking and exploitation. Crucially, the report recognises the need for responses to be informed by the views of the children and communities affected to engender a more tailored, empathetic and effective response.”