Child slavery victims are to be given individual support through a new network of specialist independent advocates, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire announced.
The new scheme will be trialled from April across a number of local authorities in England including West Midlands, which includes seven local authorities, Manchester and Oxfordshire.
Under the new system each child victim will be allocated a person with specialist training and expertise in trafficking who will provide dedicated support and guidance and ensure the child’s voice is heard.
Independent of the local authority, the specialist advocate will act as a single point of contact throughout the care and immigration process and will be responsible for promoting the child’s safety and wellbeing, particularly important in light of the risk of children being re-trafficked.
Security Minister, James Brokenshire, said: “Modern slavery is an appalling evil, particularly when it involves children.
“Child victims of slavery are an incredibly vulnerable group in need of specialist support but at the moment provision is patchy and inconsistent. We want to ensure there is a single, dedicated point of contact for each child from start to finish.
“We believe having a truly independent voice in the system, advocating for the child in the way that a parent could, will dramatically improve the prospects of these children and ensure they receive the help and protection they need and deserve.”
The trials will test two different approaches simultaneously in each area.
The first will build on existing Local Authority structures. All Local Authorities currently have independent advocates who are provided on request to looked-after children. However, practice varies between Local Authorities in relation to the advocates independence and availability. Under the trial, a number of these independent advocates will be trained in child trafficking.
The second approach being tested will involve the creation of new specialist advocates who are entirely independent of the Local Authority.
These specialist advocates will assist the local authority in assessing the needs of the child as a victim of trafficking, support the child in overcoming language and cultural barriers, making sure the child has access to the right services, accompany the child to key meetings and promote their interests.
The trials will last for a period of six months and the Home Office will then carry out an in-depth evaluation.
The move is part of the government’s wider commitment to eradicate slavery and protect victims through legislation and non-legislative work. The introduction of a Modern Slavery Bill later this year will consolidate into a single act the offences used to prosecute slave drivers. It will also introduce Trafficking Prevention Orders to restrict the activity and movement of convicted traffickers and stop them from committing further offences and a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner to hold law enforcement and other organisations to account.
The draft Bill is currently being subjected to Pre-Legislative Scrutiny with the aim of publishing a Bill in the spring that could be passed and on the statute books by the end of the Parliament.