Child traffickers may be using care homes as ‘holding pens’

A high proportion of suspected victims of child trafficking are disappearing from local authority care, according to an influential body of MPs.

A Home Affairs select committee report revealed that about 60 per cent of child victims placed in local authority care go missing and are not subsequently found.

The committee said it was “alarmed” by evidence that traffickers were training children to present themselves as unaccompanied asylum seekers in order to be placed in insecure care, from which the traffickers can later coerce them to leave.

The committee said: “In effect, traffickers may be using the care home system for vulnerable children as holding pens for their victims until they are ready to pick them up.”
Martin Narey, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, called for government action to expose the extent to which young people at risk from trafficking are slipping through the system.

“Only when we know the true extent of the problem can we begin to look at what can be done to protect these vulnerable young people and ensure that care homes do not become a collection point for victims,” he said.

The committee said it would hold a further evidence session later this year on the disappearance of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from children’s homes.

The report came as new research by charity Every Child said the global recession could increase the number of children at risk from trafficking and other forms of abuse.

The charity’s chief executive Anna Feuchtwang said: “At a time of chronic food shortages and economic decline, failure to incorporate child protection systems into international development policies has left millions of children vulnerable to abandonment and exploitation.”