Independent Child Trafficking Advocates: briefing for Westminster Hall debate


“I feel confident that my advocate gives me all the information I need to know about what they’re doing for me.” 1View from a child assigned an advocate during the trial, taken from the independent evaluation report, page 27: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/486138/icta-horr86.pdf

Overview

In 2015, the Modern Slavery Act provided for independent child trafficking advocates to support child victims of trafficking in England and Wales. 2Section 48, Modern Slavery Act 2015 A system of advocates was trialled in 23 English local authorities between September 2014 and September 2015. Following an independent evaluation published in December 2015, the Government decided not to roll out a nationwide service immediately, but instead to consider adapting and further testing the role of the independent child trafficking advocate. 3http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/writtenstatement/Lords/2015-12-17/HLWS427/ 

Unaccompanied and separated children are among the most vulnerable children in the UK. Many arrive seeking protection from violence, abuse, persecution or conflict, requesting asylum or humanitarian assistance. Many have been trafficked, and nearly all are vulnerable to exploitation. These children are alone in an unfamiliar country, with no support from a parent or carer, vulnerable to abuse, potentially suffering from trauma. They are facing an uncertain future as decisions are made about their lives by unknown and complex authorities. In 2015, 3,043 unaccompanied children sought asylum in the UK, 4Home Office (2015) Asylum statistics https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2015/asylum#unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-children-uasc and 982 children were identified as potential victims of trafficking. 5National Crime Agency (2016), National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2015 – 3,266 potential victims of trafficking were referred into the National Referral Mechanism in 2015, a 40% increase on 2014. 982 of these were children, 30% of the total. 

In its examination of the UK Government’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child urged the Government to “establish statutory independent guardians for all unaccompanied and separated children throughout the State Party”, echoing recommendations from 2014 and 2008. 6UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2016), Concluding observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 76b; (2014), Concluding observations (Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography): United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 39c Human trafficking legislation in Northern Ireland 7Section 21, Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) (Northern Ireland) 2015 and Scotland 8Section 11, Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 in 2015 established statutory independent guardians for all unaccompanied and separated children, including trafficked children, to work in their best interests. The Refugee Children’s Consortium calls on the Government to ensure that independent child trafficking advocates are available for all potential child victims of trafficking as a matter of urgency, and are the first step towards this much needed support for all unaccompanied and separated children in England and Wales.

The role of an independent child trafficking advocate

The role of the child trafficking advocate, as set out in legislation, is to:
  • Represent and support children who there are “reasonable grounds to believe may be victims of human trafficking”
  • Be independent of any person responsible for making decisions about the child
  • Promote the child’s well-being and act in the child’s best interests
  • Assist the child in obtaining legal or other advice, assistance and representation.

Public authorities, in providing services to or taking decisions about a trafficked child, must “recognise, and pay due regard to” the advocate’s functions, and provide the advocate with access to relevant information.

International experiences of guardianship systems, including in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden broadly show that a professional service underpinned by national legislation establishes the independence, authority, support and expertise guardians need to navigate complex systems and processes in the best interests of children; and enables the continuity of care and high quality support that is needed for guardians to build a relationship of trust with a child. 9See also EU Fundamental Rights Agency (2014), Guardianship for children deprived of parental care: A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking, section 2.1 Best practice in the Netherlands has shown the huge impact that effective guardianship provision and safe accommodation can have on the safety, well-being and futures of trafficked children, including in reducing the number of children going missing.

Refugee Children’s Consortium response

The Refugee Children’s Consortium welcomes the Government’s stated commitment to establish a statutory system of independent advocates for trafficked children, as provided for in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. However, we are disappointed and concerned that the Government does not feel able to implement a national child trafficking advocacy service in England and Wales at this time, particularly given that services are currently in place or under development in Scotland and Northern Ireland which support a far wider group of children. The protection needs of trafficked children and children at risk of trafficking are significant and require a co-ordinated and individualised response.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium recognises that there are areas within the initial child trafficking advocates trial that need further consideration, including the scope of the service and the children it supported, challenges around timely and effective referral, and the intersection between advocates and established services such as children’s social care. Nevertheless, the independent evaluation demonstrated clearly that child trafficking advocates complemented  xisting provision and played an important role in ensuring “clarity, coherence and continuity” for individual children across a bewildering array of services. It found that the advocates established relationships of trust and credibility; shared developing expertise in trafficking and case specific information; helped children to navigate their ways through complex circumstances; maintained a momentum in a case that was suitable to the child’s needs, including planning for a sustainable future; and improved the quality of decision making. 10https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-independent-child-trafficking-advocates-trial-final-report

With regard to the impact of advocates on the numbers of missing children, the independent evaluation by the University of Bedfordshire, just over half (80 of 158) of the children in the trial were noted as having no missing episodes after the allocation of an advocate, and for another 6 it was unclear whether any missing episodes had occurred. The remaining 72 children (46%) had at least one missing episode that was recorded. Of these 72, there were 27 children who remained missing (17% of the whole cohort of children). The comparator group included 12 children (out of 72) who remained missing, compared with 15 (out of 86) who remained missing in the advocacy group. While the proportions from both groups are similar, it is important to note that 7 out of the 15 advocacy group children went missing between allocation to the trial and referral to the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates Service, so advocates had no opportunity to work with them. However, advocates played an important role in putting pressure on relevant agencies to find children when they did go missing.

Recommendations

Without an independent advocate, many child victims of trafficking in England and Wales will be left without the support they need to stay safe, and to know and access their rights. They will continue to struggle to find their way through the complex agencies, services and processes they come into contact with, and will have no one who can consistently advocate on their behalf and support them to re-establish their lives.

The Refugee Children’s Consortium urges the Government to build upon the many positive outcomes from the child trafficking advocates trial when designing and implementing new proposals, including by:

  • Ensuring assessment of the trial is ongoing, enabling a roll-out as soon as possible and without undue delay, to ensure no child is left without the expert advice, support and protection he or she needs
  • Piloting independent advocates for a broader group of unaccompanied and separated children to determine how vulnerable children can best be protected and supported
  • Considering extending advocacy provision for trafficked children beyond the age of 18 to reflect leaving care legislation and support
  • Exploring how public authorities, when providing services to or making decisions about a trafficked child, are giving due regard to the advocate’s functions and providing access for the advocate to relevant information
  • Establishing a transparent, independent evaluation framework, with clear and measurable outcomes for children.

Questions for the Minister

  1. What steps will be taken to put child trafficking advocates on statutory footing following the second trial period?
  2. Can the Minister confirm the expected time-frame for evaluation of the new trial and the development of Regulations on child trafficking advocates?
  3. Will the Minister consider extending the provision of independent advocates to unaccompanied and separated children within the new trial?
  4. How will the Minister ensure that unaccompanied and separated children in England and Wales are not disadvantaged and receive the same level of protection as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland who have access to independent guardians?
  5. How will the Minister ensure that local authorities and relevant agencies comply with the duty to give due regard to the advocate’s views, in order to be able to robustly evaluate the effectiveness of the advocate in supporting the best interests of the child?
  6. Will the Minister set out how any further trial will be evaluated, and which outcomes will be measured?

 

References   [ + ]

1. View from a child assigned an advocate during the trial, taken from the independent evaluation report, page 27: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/486138/icta-horr86.pdf
2. Section 48, Modern Slavery Act 2015
3. http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/writtenstatement/Lords/2015-12-17/HLWS427/
4. Home Office (2015) Asylum statistics https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/immigration-statistics-october-to-december-2015/asylum#unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-children-uasc
5. National Crime Agency (2016), National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2015 – 3,266 potential victims of trafficking were referred into the National Referral Mechanism in 2015, a 40% increase on 2014. 982 of these were children, 30% of the total.
6. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2016), Concluding observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 76b; (2014), Concluding observations (Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography): United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 39c
7. Section 21, Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) (Northern Ireland) 2015
8. Section 11, Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015
9. See also EU Fundamental Rights Agency (2014), Guardianship for children deprived of parental care: A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking, section 2.1
10. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evaluation-of-independent-child-trafficking-advocates-trial-final-report