Thousands of children affected by modern slavery are being “failed by system”

Most children of modern slavery victims are not getting the support they need with many getting ‘lost in the system’, according to a new report by the crisis charity Hestia.

07/10/21

Thousands of children affected by modern slavery are being “failed by system”

The charity says that children who were with their parents while they were exploited, or born as a result of exploitation, are not being recognised and often experience “profound trauma”.

Launched at a roundtable event in central London with leading experts from the sector, the ‘Forgotten Children’ report estimates that 5,000 children are currently being affected but warns, however, that the actual figure could be much higher. The report, which examines the experiences of mothers and children supported by the charity, found that a mother’s trauma can have a deep and long-lasting impact on a child’s life, even leading to developmental delays and poor mental health.

Over the last decade modern slavery in the UK has been on the rise and it is estimated that there are as many as 100,000 victims. Women make up about a third of all victims of modern slavery in the UK, with many commonly forced into sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

Telling her story anonymously for the report, one survivor of modern slavery whose son was born after she had escaped slavery said she felt isolated and alone.

“When you feel so alone it’s so hard to cope.”

“I was very concerned about my son and the delays in his speech, so I went to the GP and asked the Health Visitor for help, but they just told me not to worry. But I said, ‘look my son was talking and now he has stopped – something is wrong’. But they didn’t see the gap between his age and his development.”

Hestia is calling on the government to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and enable children of modern slavery victims to be recognised as victims in their own right alongside introducing a new system of Children and Family Advocates to focus on the needs of the child.

As well as recognising children as victims in law, the charity is calling for training for social workers and other professionals to improve their understanding of how modern slavery can impact a mother and child.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive at Hestia, said the risk of intergenerational transmission of trauma is great.

“Rebuilding a life after the trauma of modern slavery is a long and difficult journey.

“What is clear from our research is that we are failing survivors and their children. They are being overlooked, misunderstood, and forgotten. Too often, the support put in place to help families does not understand their needs, making their recovery journeys harder and longer.

“The powerful and sustaining hope we hear from mothers who have survived modern slavery is that they want a better life for their children. We must not let them down. All women and their children impacted by modern slavery need and deserve protection, understanding and support. Only then can they begin to rebuild their lives.”

Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, welcomed the report and it’s important findings.

“[The report] clearly highlights that even in cases where a child has not been directly exploited themselves, the impact of a mother’s experience on their development and mental health can be significant,” Dame Thornton said.

“This cohort of children is also extremely vulnerable to further harm and I support the calls made by this research to ensure that professionals working with individuals and their families understand these risks.”

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