Responsibility for the care, protection and accommodation of child trafficking victims from the UK and abroad falls to local authorities under the 1989 and 2004 Children Acts.
Home Office first responders who identify a child as a potential victim of modern slavery must complete a referral form to child welfare services.
The government statutory guidance ‘Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children’ of 2014 provides:
- The assessment of whether a child is being exploited or is at risk of exploitation, including where there is reason to believe a child has been trafficked, is a child protection decision.
- Child protection and care planning should be enacted accordingly depending on the outcome of that decision. Not all children trafficked within the UK will become looked after children and it will not always be appropriate to bring care proceedings. This guidance applies only to those that become looked after children.
- The assessment conducted as the first step in the care planning process must be made with reference to the child’s needs as an unaccompanied or trafficked child. This means that particular account must be taken through the assessment of any specific needs the child has, for example, because of their experiences in their country of origin (such as experience of conflict), their journey to the UK, abuse at the hands of traffickers or exploitation as a consequence of being trafficked.
- The assessment should ascertain any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child. These experiences can be severe and traumatic. They should be noted, along with any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them. As for any child, the assessment should also cover the child’s needs in relation to their health, disability, education, religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background.
- The assessment should establish that the child fully understands their situation and how they will be supported. This includes ensuring they understand the risks they may face, particularly from traffickers. An assessment of their continued vulnerability to the influence or control of their traffickers and the risks of them going missing from care should be recorded and kept under review.
- Where a child has been trafficked, the assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirers until their identity and relationship with the child has been established, if necessary, with the help of police and immigration services.
- Local authorities should prioritise unaccompanied and trafficked children to provide the best likelihood that they will receive continuity of care and be able to build a sustained relationship with their social worker. This continuity should begin, where possible, from the child’s assessment and be promoted throughout their time in care.
- Trafficked children might not initially recognise that they are victims of a crime. They may have been told that the authorities will try to put them in prison, or have been passed from one unknown adult to another. They need to know they can trust their social worker, and others involved in their care, and that they will be able to rely on support from allocated workers over time.
- No assumptions should be made about the child’s language skills. Where interpreters are required, they should be appropriately trained to understand the particular issues the child may face. In particular, “trafficking” as a concept may not translate literally or easily, and may need to be expressed in a different way to ensure the child fully comprehends their situation.
- Care should be taken and appropriate checks made to ensure that the interpreter is not linked in any way with those who may have been involved in their trafficking or exploitation.
- If a child is an unaccompanied asylum seeking child or there is reason to believe they are a victim of human trafficking, this must be recorded on their care plan. The plan should include a description of how the child’s needs in relation to being unaccompanied or trafficked will be met. This is to ensure that everyone involved in providing the child’s care is aware of their circumstance and can enable them to provide for any needs resulting from it. The plan should also note key stages relevant to the child’s evolving asylum or immigration status.
- As for any looked after child, a health plan and a personal education plan should be produced as part of the overall care plan. The health plan should cover the children’s state of health including physical, emotional and mental health. This should include detail of how any psychological issues will be addressed. For example, these may result from the child’s experiences in their country of origin, on their journey to the UK or at the hands of traffickers in the UK. The health plan should also take into account any developmental or learning difficulties.
- Traffickers may have sought to control the child by telling them that their family will come to harm if they do not cooperate. Trafficked children should be provided with ongoing support to help them cope with the emotional impact of this kind of coercion. This may require referral to specialist mental health assessment and treatment. The health plan should set out the objectives, actions, timescales and responsibilities, arising from the health assessment
- A child protection plan may be required to protect children from further harm. This is particularly likely where there is reason to believe the child is a victim of trafficking and risks may arise because the child is a witness to serious organised crime or there is a high risk that they will go missing from care and return to their traffickers. In these cases, the plan should include what steps will be taken by carers, the local authority and police to recover the child if they do go missing, in accordance with local Runaway and Missing from Home and Care protocols. A photograph of the child should be kept on file for use if the child goes missing.
It is good practice to see if the local authority responsible for the child has complied with the statutory duty. A copy of the local authority file can be requested.