Missing Children – “lost” by local authorities, trafficked and exploited
A damning report published by the Children’s Commissioner for England finds that hundreds of children in England are being locked up in institutions across the country. But that is only one part of a distressing tale with many strands that include children trafficked from other countries into the UK, rescued from gangs, taken into care, lost and re-trafficked.
The report, “Who are they? Where are they?” – has gathered data from English councils about how some of the most vulnerable children in England have become “invisible” to local authorities.
This report finds that 1,465 children in England were securely detained in 2018, of whom 873 were in held in youth justice settings, 505 were in mental health wards and 87 were in secure children’s homes for their own welfare.
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However, the report warns that this number is likely to be an underestimate due to gaps in the publicly accessible data.
The UK spends around £300m a year on 1,465 England children who are regarded as being in genuine need of support, and this excludes what we spend on those “invisible” children whose settings we don’t have information about.
According to the report, there are an additional 211 children whose Deprivation of Liberty has been authorised by a court, who are locked away but whose whereabouts in the system is unknown to authorities.
“Even for those children we know about, there is only limited information about how long children stay in secure settings, how long they wait for a place, whether they face delays in the transfer of care to the community and what happens when they leave”, the report says.
May 25 is International Missing Children Day, which was first proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 to honour the efforts of organisations and individuals to protect children in the USA. So what about the UK?
According to statistics from Missing Kids UK, now Missing People – a child goes missing in the UK every three minutes. Many of these children do so by their own choice. However, one in five of these children is then at risk of being sexually exploited. The reality in Britain is that 96 children a day will likely be sexually exploited in this category alone – that’s over 35,000 children every year. And that does not include those in the report above, or for that matter, other forms of exploitation.
For instance, last year, a quarter of trafficked children, that’s children who have entered the UK alone and then subsequently rescued from trafficking gangs, who were in the care of local authorities in the UK have gone missing from the system, according to new research by two British charities that work with vulnerable children.
Of the 1,015 children reported by local authorities as identified or suspected victims of trafficking in 2017, 24% – 246 – have gone missing from the care system.
Jane Hunter, co-author of a Missing People report, said: “Trafficked children are going missing at a rate of more than 30 times that of other children, and more than double that of other looked-after children.”
Rescued children are taken into care, lost and then find themselves back where they were prior to being rescued. “Trafficked and unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable, and may go missing back into a highly exploitative situation to those they were trafficked by or others,” said Hunter.
Three months ago – Catherine Baker, co-author of a report from ECPAT, said it was “an on-going hidden scandal that so many child-trafficking victims and unaccompanied children continue to be failed by the UK care system.”