National training centre to aid work with victims of child trafficking

A national training centre has opened its doors this month to remedy the “worrying gap” in professionals’ knowledge of working with victims of child trafficking, amid claims that the government is doing too little to address the issue.

The centre, set up by the charity Ecpat UK (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), will offer training to workers across children’s services, the legal profession and the travel industry.

Ecpat training manager Karen Sizeland will manage the centre near Victoria station in London, said the government’s human trafficking strategy, published this summer, falls short on support for child victims.

She said the plan focused too much on border control and “failed to address the complex nature of child trafficking and the fact that many of the perpetrators of violence and sexual abuse are already living here in the UK”.

 Sizeland argued that a large proportion of professionals working in child protection need extra support to deal with the problem. “We travel all over the UK and I repeatedly come back to the office shocked that frontline practitioners don’t know about government guidance on safeguarding trafficked children,” she said.

To address the problem, the training centre will offer introductory and advanced courses on child trafficking as well as seminars on topics such as the health needs of children who have been trafficked and the impact of trauma and abuse.

“Professionals have got very good at identifying familial abuse, domestic violence and neglect, but when they go out on duty visits, child trafficking isn’t in their thinking and doesn’t cross their mind,” Sizeland said.

A Home Office spokesman refuted claims that the government’s strategy is not sufficiently child-focused, saying the measures set out in the trafficking strategy will benefit both adult and child victims. “We are sending a message that the UK is not a soft touch for traffickers,” he said. “We will pursue and disrupt trafficking networks overseas wherever possible to stop them before they ply their trade in the UK and then bring them to justice,” he said.

Among the measures set out in the strategy is work with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre to reduce the numbers of children who go missing from local authority care and ensuring that trafficked children involved in criminal activity are supported as victims and not unnecessarily criminalised.

But Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, agreed that more needs to be done to increase face-to-face training, in order to give professionals the confidence to deal with the complexity of child trafficking.

“Social workers have so many directives to follow from the Department for Education,” she said. “You can weigh people down with memorandums and practice guidance but people actually need learning and training opportunities.”

Ecpat UK’s project officer, solicitor Kalvir Kaur, will be running good practice sessions for legal professionals at the training centre. “Solicitors find it difficult to interview trafficked children, particularly when it comes to exploitation for sex because they necessarily have to employ language which they might not feel comfortable using with a young person,” she said.