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Child trafficking: family and immigration courts must join together to protect victims

Date:27 MAR 2014

Andy ElvinChild trafficking is a growing problem. Recently published statistics from the National Crime Agency show that the number of children trafficked into and out of the UK has soared in the past year and we ourselves are receiving an increasing number of calls to our Advice Line regarding such cases.

The Government has taken noble first steps in tackling trafficking in the Modern Slavery Bill and through its proposals for victims to be assigned Cafcass Guardians who will represent their interests during court proceedings.

However, while the intentions behind these proposals are good, they simply will not improve outcomes for victims. Here I will outline why a joint Family and Immigration Court is the only solution that will better address the needs of trafficking victims.

Protecting the best interests of the victim

From the moment that a trafficked child is identified, the primary focus must be protecting that child's best interests, and a major part of this is addressing their immigration status. In the current system, child victims are allowed to stay in the UK in state care, but once they reach 18 years of age, they face deportation. This uncertainty and instability has a profoundly negative impact on these young people.

A joint Family and Immigration Court would resolve this issue. In essence, this proposal would lead to all trafficked children being made subject to proceedings at the point they become known to the authorities. Within 6 months, a best interest determination would be made, giving a permanent immigration status decision.

The child will be made subject to ICO's whilst the 6 month hearing progresses and each child will have a Cafcass Guardian appointed who will represent them during proceedings. The court will investigate home circumstance in country of origin and a best interest determination will be made as to whether there are suitable family members who can provide a stable, loving home for them. If not, the child will become subject to a s 31 care order to the relevant local authority and be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

This proposal would end uncertainty for trafficked children. It would ensure that somebody has parental responsibility in the UK and that victims will be represented by a Guardian in the Court process. If the child remains in the UK they will be in the care of a local authority and have access to IRO and advocate services as per the indigenous care population.

Curbing the cost

An added benefit of instating a joint Family and Immigration Court is the fact that it would actually make the current immigration system, which is costly and often ineffective, more robust and efficient.

Immigration is a topic that is constantly surrounded by controversy, and whilst public opinion and political rhetoric doesn't tend to reflect the real facts, it is fair to say that the current system is not proicient. 

Pressure Group, Migration Watch, estimated that since 1995, immigration has cost the UK taxpayer £140 billion, so any proposals that would make the system less costly and more robust must be explored.

Our proposal would do exactly that. By making a permanent status decision early on, there would be no ongoing need for immigration advice and support. All overseas children who remain here would be on full care orders to the local authority and have settled permanent status. They would then be looked after children who would have access to the same services and support as the indigenous population - something which the Guardianship proposal and Modern Slavery Bill fails to address.

We at CFAB have spent 55 years protecting the best interests of children who are in the UK having been separated from their families abroad. This experience tells us that the more stability we can provide for these vulnerable individuals, the better. We urge the DFE, Home Office and Peers to recommend that the Joint Court proposal be in the Modern Slavery Bill to save victims from the unnecessary trauma caused by this indecision.    

Andy Elvin is a social worker and Chief Executive Officer of Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB). Andy joined CFAB as the Chief Executive in July 2009 having previously acted as Strategic Director for Surestart Children's Centres in the London Borough of Richmond.

At CFAB Andy has been involved with the fight to end child detention in the immigration process and works alongside the Government on international social work issues including private fostering, child trafficking and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Andy was also on the panel of experts for the Permanent Bureau of the International Hague Convention in relation to the 1996 Hague Convention Practical handbook.

Andy's first degree was in Media and Cultural Studies, following which he travelled to the USA to work as a childcare worker and a foster parent in Portland, Maine. There he spent 2 years working for The Spurwink Foundation a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) for children suffering from profound emotional and behavioural issues. When Andy returned to the UK he studied a Master's Degree in Social Work at the University of Kent before becoming a social worker in the London Borough of Richmond and then the City of Westminster. From 2001 - 2006 Andy was the Director of the Soho Family Centre, a Charity that offers childcare, early education, family support and community projects in the Soho area.

Andy is on the Board of Frontline a new social work training organisation chaired by Lord Adonis.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.