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Safeguarding the Children in Scotland Who May Have Been Trafficked

The UNISON Scotland Submission June 2008

June 2008


UNISON Scotland is the largest public sector trade union in Scotland representing over 160,000 members. UNISON represents social care workers in the public and voluntary sector and so welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this consultation on Safeguarding the children in Scotland who may have been trafficked.

Response to consultation

Question 1 - Is this guidance fit for purpose for Scotland?

UNISON Scotland welcomes the thrust this guidance and its clear aim to ensure that the welfare of the child is paramount. We welcome the clearly stated support from the Scottish Government for the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the focus on the need for efficient and co-operative assessment and planning to promote and support the rights of children, and to identify and assess their needs.

We are pleased that it is located firmly within the framework of Scottish domestic legislation with its welfare and children's rights focus; and we welcome the statements throughout this document which provide guidance on using the provisions of the Children (Scotland) Act to support and protect children and to promote their welfare, regardless of their immigration status.

The information in the guidance on child trafficking provides a helpful framework to understand the issues, especially for staff who may not come across this on a day-to-day basis. We find the detailed information on the likely impact of trafficking on children and the kind of support they may require, particularly helpful and are pleased that this considers the emotional and psychological impact on a child's health and welfare as well as the impact of physical and sexual abuse.

The guidance would benefit from a clearer acknowledgement that it is important not to exacerbate the impact of such abuse on a child by an insensitive or heavy-handed response from the authorities, by, for example, pushing these children to tell their stories before they can feel secure enough to do so or responding with disbelief etc. We know that children who are victims of abuse need time to trust and to feel secure in adults' ability to protect them before they can fully disclose.

The information sharing section, though brief, is helpfully underpinned by the welfare principle and the importance of taking the child's views into account and informing the child when information has been shared without their consent. The guidance would benefit from inclusion of when it may be appropriate to seek informed consent from a child or other data subject. UNISON believes a shorter "working guidance" document would also be useful to sit alongside the fuller guidance.

Question 2 - Are you confident that using this guidance would help to identify, assess and support any trafficked children in your area?

The guidance is very helpful and UNISON believes that using it will assist practitioners. However, it will be very important to do more than just hand out a written document. The guidance is for use by a range of different professionals, some of whom have some experience of working together, some of whom do not. It will be important to ensure that all these professionals are aware of their duties and responsibilities; and that they have a shared understanding of the guidance and the practice implications for their particular role. Local Authority will have to do more than hand out the guidance. They must provide multi-agency training as one element of Child Protection training.

We have also identified areas of the guidance that need greater clarification and fuller guidance and these are detailed under Question 5 below.

Question 3 - Have we scoped all the agencies likely to come into contact with children who may have been trafficked?

It may be that these children will come to the attention of voluntary organisations first so it may be helpful to include them in the guidance.

Question 4 - Are you content with the actions required of agencies outlined within this section?

Yes but see Question 5 below for fuller comments and concerns.

Question 5 - Will there be any difficulty with incorporating the actions outlined into local procedures?

Although we fully support the actions outlined for local authority social work staff it is important to recognise that there will be resource implications in implementing this guidance. As stated above, there will be a need for training on the specific issues around trafficked children and on the procedures outlined in the guidance.

UNISON agrees with the requirement that a qualified and experienced social worker should lead an initial assessment, but there are still too few experienced staff in many of the teams dealing with child protection across Scotland. This is a resource issue that will limit some authorities' ability to implement the guidance in full, and needs to be recognised and addressed in workforce planning.

We agree wholeheartedly that it takes time to build up trust with these children. This is potentially resource intensive. Our members are continually raising concerns about time pressures arising from heavy caseloads, administrative duties and ‘target' based and inspection dictated functions that deflect from their ability to work as directly and intensively with children.

We support fully the need to provide trafficked children with a safe and confidential placement if this is necessary for their safety and protection and in reality, most, if not all trafficked children will require a care placement of some sort for a period of time, which meets their assessed needs. This has resource implications for local authorities. Many authorities struggle at present to meet the accommodation needs of their current population of looked-after-children and young people and would face serious difficulties in finding additional placements at all, never mind the specialist placements needed to meet the needs of trafficked children. A targeted recruitment campaign is essential and this will need investment.

There is a requirement in the guidance that where a child has "immigration issues" United Kingdom Borders Agency should be informed, "so that they can co-ordinate immigration processes within the recommended child's plan." We would welcome further clarification of what this will mean in practice, how the two processes (the welfare focussed planning for the child and the immigration processes) will fit together and what will take precedence. It is our view that the child's best interests should take precedence.

There also needs to be recognition that many of these children will have well-grounded deep suspicion of authorities and any actions the child may take need to be assessed in that context rather than held against them.

UNISON believes that there are significant resource implications in this document. For example, we agree that there needs to be access to approved, independent, professional interpreters with the necessary training, checks and safeguards to protect children. However, our experience is that these are not currently in place nor readily accessible across Scotland. If they are to be involved in supporting disclosures from children who may have been sexually abused, they will need additional training in this area, with an ability to use comfortably the appropriate sexual terminology.

The guidance, while recognising that child witnesses face many difficulties including fear of deportation, stops short of identifying any means to protect children from deportation if they come forward. Perhaps this is out with the remit of this document but it would have been helpful to include the circumstances that qualify for immunity from deportation.

The guidance states that if the trafficked child's asylum application fails there will need to be a risk assessment of the dangers a child might face if repatriated. We are concerned that it does not clarify how to achieve this. It is essential that any such assessment is robust and has the welfare of the child at its centre. There will be a need to consider how appropriate assessments can take place in the child's country of origin to ensure the child's welfare and safety within their family and community.

There are grounds for concern about how assessments take place in countries to which children are returned, about the support for children and their families and the training and qualifications of the people undertaking the assessment. For example, a child sold by their parents and subsequently trafficked may have a different reunification with their parents from a child who sent by their parents to escape traumatic experiences like war or persecution.

Social workers will need to be confident that the child is returning to a welcoming and supportive environment and that they will not suffer further harm or abuse. To ensure this, social workers will need support and empowerment.

It is UNISON's view that it would only be appropriate for a social worker to support a child to return to their country of origin, as is suggested, if the assessment of the child's needs demonstrates that this is in the child's best interests. To make a full assessment there will need to be in place the mechanisms to avoid placing the child at further risk in their country of origin and to ensure their welfare needs will be met. We believe that further and more specific guidance is necessary.


UNISON Scotland welcomes this guidance and the clear commitment of the Scottish government to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The true test of the guidance will be how it works in practice. The guidance requires proper introduction with appropriate staff training and development. There may be a need for more specialist child-protection staff and extra accommodation. This requires extra resources for all agencies dealing with child protection. Without the extra resources, the guidance will not fulfill its aim.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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