Victims Of Modern Slavery Overlooked Due To Lack Of Training, Report Finds

By Harry Duffy, 14 Feb 2024
Credit: Luke Stackpoole/Unsplash

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A new report by The Rights Lab and ECPAT, a leading children’s rights organisation, has highlighted the ways in which the UK government and local authorities could become more effective at handling child protection in relation to modern slavery. 

One of the principal findings of its research was that earlier identification of children who could be vulnerable to exploitation is needed. One of the best ways to achieve this is to implement more training for the relevant stakeholders who carry responsibility for the care of children. 

The UK has legal obligations under international conventions and treaties, as well as domestic legislation, to protect children from exploitation and abuse. The Council of Europe Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT) specifically sets out in Article 5.5 that “each Party shall take specific measures to reduce children’s vulnerability to trafficking, notably by creating a protective environment for them”.

The Rights Lab and ECPAT report specifically finds that “effective identification [of child exploitation] is also based upon extensive training for professionals”.

There are various groups of professionals who should be provided with such training, including those working in close contact with affected children, such as social workers and teachers, as well as the CPS and magistrates.  

The need for training becomes even more pronounced when placed in the context of interview #24 in the report, which was undertaken with a child services safeguarding team manager. They were quoted as saying that “a lot people don’t understand what modern slavery is and they don’t understand what exploitation is. So, without understanding it, you’re not going to know how to identify it.”

It should be of overwhelming concern to the UK government and the relevant local authorities that such a lack of understanding around what modern slavery and child exploitation looks like is causing vital indicators to go unnoticed. 

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel Report 

On the same day that the Rights Lab and ECPAT report was published, the UK government released a report of its own, which also found shortcomings in the training of professionals working with children.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s annual report identified that senior managers were not giving staff members enough time, resources or training on child protection. 

One case study in the panel’s report presented a tragically urgent reminder of the need for safeguarding practitioners to be upskilled. A child’s death was examined by the LCSPR (Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review), which identified that there had been a lack of effective challenge over the parents’ care of the child. When the practitioners involved in the investigation were questioned as to why they hadn’t applied the relevant level of scrutiny when speaking to the parents, it emerged that they had not been given sufficient training, and so did not feel confident in voicing their concerns. 

Another take-away from the report centred on the need for greater training around the diverse identities of the children, parents and wider community networks involved in the child protection process. 

The report highlighted that “further training and support for professionals was also identified as being needed to support better practice when working with families where there were important faith considerations”.

In this respect, the panel found evidence that there was a lack of consideration of faith by those involved with families, as well as inadequate cultural skills and knowledge when working with faith-based organisations, who had the potential to provide crucial expertise on the families. As practitioners didn’t feel sufficiently well versed in dealing with religious communities, opportunities to gather information from an external perspective were missed. 

The panel similarly shone a spotlight on the need for more diversity training within the Metropolitan police service, specifically given the alleged ‘adultification’ of Black and ethnic minority children on the part of the police, a practice that risks impairing the assessment of that demographic’s vulnerability and need of support. 

There was also a tendency for child protection practitioners working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to fail to fully grasp the traditions and parenting approaches of those families. 

A Wider Issue 

The findings of the two recent reports shouldn’t come as a major shock. The insights are echoed by a June 2023 report on child exploitation from Barnardo’s, which also put forward a recommendation for “enhanced training and support, pre-qualification and post-qualification, for all professionals working with children, so that they have knowledge and confidence that they need to better protect children”.

The lack of training for professionals on the issue of protection of children from exploitation and modern slavery also manifests itself in the prison system. The Chief Inspector of Prisons found that HMP Maidstone had severe shortcomings regarding the understanding of the indicators of vulnerability in terms of inmates’ exploitation and modern slavery. 

Its findings identified that HMP Maidstone “did not sufficiently inform staff about issues such as Home Office procedures, the mental health impact of deportation and the risk of modern slavery”.

Across all of these reports, a pattern emerges: more training is required in order for industry professionals, as well as the public, to play their part in identifying those at risk of modern slavery.

About The Author

Harry Duffy

Harry Duffy is an eclectic writer. Over the course of the last 8 years, his beat has covered sports, human interest stories and more recently human rights.

Harry Duffy is an eclectic writer. Over the course of the last 8 years, his beat has covered sports, human interest stories and more recently human rights.