One in three trafficked children going missing from local authority care

New research finds that children who have been trafficked are at greater risk of going missing from local authority care.

19/04/22

One in three trafficked children going missing from local authority care

A new report finds that almost one in three trafficked children went missing from local authority care in 2020.

The data shows that 378 of 1,231 trafficked children – some 31% – went missing from local authority care in 2020. This represents a rise of 25% since 2018, when last reported.

The data comes from charities representing trafficked children ECPAT UK and Missing People, who analysed Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to local authorities. Responses showed that trafficked children who went missing in 2020 had an average of eight ‘missing episodes’ that year. This is a significantly higher rate of going missing than the looked after children population of England who had an average of 6.5 missing episodes in the same year.

The report highlights that the number of identified and suspected trafficked children in local authority care has increased by 22% over the last few years, from 960 trafficked children in care in 2018 to 1,231 in 2020.

While one in three trafficked children in the UK went missing in 2020, one in 10 looked after children went missing in England that year, and one in 200 children went missing overall in the UK.

ECPAT UK says that when child victims go missing from care, it’s often an indicator that they have been re-trafficked. Traffickers identify the child or young person and find ways to remove them from care for the purpose of subjecting them to further exploitation.

These figures have deepened the concerns of expert organisations across the sector, including Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, the Coram Children’s Legal Centre and the Helen Bamber Foundation, who have written to Ministers Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi about the need to include protections for children in the Nationality and Borders Bill, which returns to the House of Commons this Wednesday 20th April. This new data demonstrates a significant proportion of trafficked children are already going missing repeatedly, but the Bill’s proposals will increase the likelihood of trafficked children going missing from care and being re-trafficked.

There are also concerns that the conflict in Ukraine will only make things worse. The Nationality and Borders Bill will also reduce identification and protection for child victims of trafficking, even though 4.3 million children have recently been displaced by the war, and widespread concerns are rising about the risk of child exploitation and trafficking at borders.

As a result of the report, the charities are calling on local authorities and their safeguarding partners to provide safe and appropriate accommodation for all trafficked children, and improve data recording systems, collecting and holding data on each child’s history and risk of trafficking. They also recommend that safeguarding partners develop a culture of trust and law enforcement allocate extra resources for missing children who have been trafficked, as they face increased risk.

They also recommend that the Home Office and local authorities must “give trafficked and unaccompanied children the benefit of the doubt regarding their age.”

“Age assessments must not be routine and should only be carried out when there are significant reasons to do so,” the report said.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said the report highlights a ‘child protection crisis’ for children who have been trafficked who are already extremely vulnerable and at risk of going missing from care in the UK.

“Our report shows just how much more at risk trafficked and unaccompanied children are, and should prompt action from the government, local authorities, police and all safeguarding partners to ensure that these children are afforded more protection.

“It is hard to understand why the Government is currently creating laws that will make this problem worse and will put child victims of trafficking at risk of further exploitation. There is still time for the Government to shield children from the dangerous proposals on modern slavery in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and to make clear that all decisions must be taken in children’s best interests.”

Jane Hunter, Senior Research and Impact Manager at Missing People, said the data once again confirms that unaccompanied and trafficked children are at ‘very high risk’ of going missing from care.

“Many of these children will have experienced harm, fear and exploitation both before going missing and while missing. What’s more, this data shows no improvement over recent years, with both a higher number and proportion of trafficked children going missing in 2020 than in previous years, and a broadly similar proportion of unaccompanied children going missing. It is very clear that more needs to be done to safeguard these children.”

Read the full report: https://www.ecpat.org.uk/

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