Understanding child trafficking and the challenges for practice - Paul Rigby

Child care and protection research
Published on 15 Mar 2012

Paul Rigby, Researcher in child protection, Glasgow Social Work Services and on secondment at the Criminal Justice Social Work Centre, University of Edinburgh. In this clip, Paul Rigby talks about some recent work undertaken in Glasgow focused on the issue of child trafficking. Drawing on three reports, he highlights learning about the incidence in child trafficking among the population of 500 unaccompanied children referred to Glasgow social work, themes emerging from a study of professionals' experiences of working, and the findings of a more recent piece of work, due to be published, exploring the use of National Referral Mechanism.

He highlights the importance of locating work with children and young people who may have been trafficked within child protection procedures and practice. As trafficking transcends borders, he identifies a need for more international liaison as part of case enquiries and assessment of risks for children and young people. Learning from practice indicates a need to ensure that a multi-agency group is involved in make decisions about referral into the National Referral Mechanism, and that procedures are put in place to ensure that children are identifiable to agencies should they disappear and come into contact with agencies at a later stage.

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Child care and protection research collection

Transcript of talk by Paul Rigby, recorded on 15th January 2012

PR My name is Paul Rigby. I am a researcher in the Child Protection Team at Glasgow Social Work and I am also working presently on a secondment at the Criminal Justice Development Centre at the University of Edinburgh - and I plan to talk today for about 10 minutes about the research we have been doing in Glasgow around the issue of child trafficking. I will talk about what we did, I will discuss some of the findings and some of the implications for practice. I mean I have been in post for Glasgow since mid-2007 and we started looking at the issue of child trafficking towards the end of that year following concerns - the Child Protection Committee of Unaccompanied Children arriving in the city, not knowing where they had come from and not really understanding what their present circumstances were and their situations. So 2007 we decided to undertake an analysis of all the case files of the unaccompanied children who had arrived in the city during 2007. It took us a long time to get to that position because it was a new area of work for everybody involved. By the end of 2008 we had a reasonably good overview of what the situation was in the city and what we had found at that point in time that approximately 1/5, 20% of the unaccompanied children who were arriving had probably been trafficked - and that was based on a set of indicators that the CEOP, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in London had been using to identify children that they suspected had been trafficked. So that was the baseline of the work in Glasgow, and since there has probably been ... it's fair to seen there is quite intensive work involved in research and development in terms of child trafficking. We did a second phase of the work in 2010 which was interviewing workers, professionals in multiagency settings who had worked with children who had been trafficked, and we have just completed a piece of working looking at the monitoring of the national referral mechanism which is the UK wide process for referring suspected trafficked children to a central organisation based within the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre, UKHTC, which is now part of SOCA. So that final piece of work is due to be published in the next couple of days by the Child Protection Committee who, in Glasgow, have overseen all this research - so it has been completed on a multiagency basis. There has been quite good buy-in from across all the different agencies in Glasgow to look at the issue of child trafficking in the city.

So it's been a 3-phase piece of work. The reason that we approached it like that - we needed ... it's probably fair to say we needed answers pretty quickly about what the situation was in the city, ideally the work would have been completed all at the same time. Unfortunately timescales and the need for some answers precluded that, so that's why we split it up into 3 phases. And then additional to that, during that process, I was involved in the monitoring of the UK wide trafficking guidance that was published by the London Safeguarding Children Board. So we have had a quite intense period over the last 3 years of looking at trafficking and hopefully we will start to embed that now into some of the developing practice within Glasgow and also in Scotland through the links with the Scottish government.

So that is a quick overview of what we did and why we did it, and basically the main finding initially, as I have already suggested, was probably 20% of unaccompanied children that were arriving, we suspected had been trafficked. And subsequently we know that figure is reasonably accurate within the Glasgow situation, because over the last 5 years we have had over ... just over 500 separated children have arrived in the city and have been looked after through the Glasgow City Child Protection Child Safeguarding procedures. And we know in the last ... well during 2010 a similar number - it was just over 20% who were actually identified as trafficking through the National Referral mechanism which actually commenced in 2009, so that is just over 2 years old now. Within the work that we completed talking to practitioners, looking at the case files, we became aware that there was a limited awareness about trafficking and about unaccompanied children generally in terms of what their needs may be and what services may have to be put in place. So the limited awareness at the beginning has now started to ... the awareness is growing - there has been a couple of other pieces of work done in Scotland, the main one probably by the Children's Commissioner - that started to raise the awareness as well, accompanied by a couple of the awareness raising events across Scotland. So what we found, as the awareness has been raised, there is also an issue of actually what to do with trafficked children or unaccompanied children when they arrive. There is very little evidence and research that would suggest the most effective way of working with children. What we have discovered in Glasgow, the distinction between trafficking and separated children is a very (... unclear) distinction at time when some of the children are arriving where it is not quite clear if they are trafficked or unaccompanied and separated. And the definition of trafficking that we use is that provided by the European Convention Against Trafficking, the Palermo Protocol which, at its simplest, is if children are moved for the purpose of exploitation, they would be considered to have been trafficked, and the exploitation doesn't have to have occurred - it could be an intent to exploit. So its reasonably broad definition is, the legal definition within the Palermo Protocol is a little bit longer than that, but that's the working definition that we work to within Glasgow.

So in terms of the distinction between smuggling and trafficking - while the main areas that we focused were where there were concerns really was the issue of assessments - and it was quite clear that the assessments that were being completed were only being completed after arrival in the UK, which is a very limited assessment in terms of an integrated assessment. In terms of GIRFEC as well, because it is really difficult to take into account background circumstances, previous education, health, whatever it may be for the children arriving in the UK from abroad, generally subject to immigration control, but increasingly from the old East European countries now as well, we are starting to identify children. So the assessment was a difficult issue for workers, because it was very rare - it's not easy to obtain information from some of the countries where the children were coming from. We have identified children from, I think it's just over 25 countries at the moment in Glasgow, and we have referred, as of today, just under 40 children to the National Referral mechanism. One of the other main findings that we found was that the official statistics from the National Referral mechanism do not really do justice to the numbers of children that are suffering through the trafficking networks, and the crossover with the smuggling and trafficking distinction, that becomes an issue in that respect. What we found in Glasgow - there were a number of children where there were concerns that were raised, but they weren't referred to either the Child Protection Team, which is the procedures within Glasgow, or the National Referral mechanism. So again it's more awareness raising that now is required to sort of address that issue.

One of the main recommendations that has come out of the latest research is the need for much more international liaison. We are talking now about a form of child abuse, child protection concerns that transcends UK borders and is an international problem, and clearly we have got children from a number of different countries. So there is a recognition that we need to start making enquiries and assessments outside of the UK and bring that into the assessment process. And, to be fair, that is one of the most difficult tasks that a worker doing an initial assessment would face in terms of "where do we go to get that information". What we found as well in terms of the implications for practice, we have changed procedures and practice over the last 4 years, as the knowledge base has developed on the back of the research. And what we identified in Glasgow - the referrals to the National Referral mechanism needed to come from a multiagency decision making group, equivalent to a child protection and case discussion, so that the decisions that were being made were based on the best available evidence from the different agencies, which at times has included, where possible, UKBA who would have some of the information from other countries in terms of the situation there. So that's been a benefit, from what we have learned over the last 4 years, to make this a multiagency process right from the start, and also to locate it within Child Protection procedures. So we are quite clear in Glasgow now, over the last 3 or 4 years the work has shown that focusing on immigration concerns is probably to the detriment of the wellbeing and the safeguarding of the children. So we have tried to focus that within Child Protection - although it would be fair to say that we are finding that immigration concerns are still paramount. So we are working with the different agencies to promote the child protection focus, which is in line with international protocols and European Convention in that respect.

It's fair to say there has been a huge change in practice over the last 3 or 4 years in Glasgow, probably throughout Scotland, on the basis of the research. But the bottom line is we are at a position where we are still learning a lot about what is happening in terms of separated and trafficked children, and also increasingly being referred now from Eastern European countries ... that was something that we weren't picking up in the first couple of years of the work that we have been doing. So it has made ... it's made a big change to practice, and what's happening now is we have a rolling programme, basically, of awareness raising and training across the city, so that all the practitioners that have not picked up on the training before are being made aware of the issue and the procedures in place now place the Child Protection Team and the Vice and Anti-Trafficking Unit within Strathclyde Police at the centre of the process, so that all referrals should come through the Child Protection Team and the Police Trafficking unit so that everything is coordinated and we can develop, on the back of the research we have actually developed a database now of all referrals that come to the Social Work and Child Protection teams so we can track, as far as possible, the process of children through the National Referral mechanism, and actually even for those who don't get referred, we can keep a track in case they come back in the future. Because what we know from the research is that some children arrive in the city and then quite quickly move on out of the city, and if they come back again we need to be aware that we have interviewed them before. So that is probably one of the biggest developments in terms of monitoring the situation, so that we are aware of who the different children may be and where they have come from, and sometimes where they go - we didn't know where children had been moved to in some instances. That is the basis of what we have done at the moment in Glasgow. We are concerned that it's only Glasgow focused - how applicable it is to the rest of Scotland the UK, we are not quite clear yet. So we are working with the government on the findings of the research in Glasgow to disseminate further to the other CPC's, and I had to work with CPC's in development, their response to child trafficking - which unfortunately, even with the work we done in Glasgow, we have no idea of the extent. We do know how many children have been referred and we do know how many people we have then referred to the National Referral mechanism. What we don't know if that is ... is that the full number of children or it's just the beginning of the process - if there is other children out there that have not been identified yet. And that is one of the key issues that we have learned, probably over the last couple of the years - at the beginning we talked about the 'tip of an iceberg' - we are much more realistic now. We don't ... we wouldn't know how big an iceberg is, so we might be identifying most of the children, we might be identifying a small proportion - we just don't know that at the moment though. That is something that we acknowledge in the work that we are developing in Glasgow - the scale of the problem may be under the radar for most children and until we get more information and more knowledge base, it's going to be difficult to identify the numbers. Unfortunately, that's the question that usually gets asked in the first instance is "how many"? And we have actually moved away from that now and we are looking more at what we need to do for the children that we have identified, rather than putting a discreet number on those that we have.