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Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery: Statutory guidance for local authorities

Unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking, can be some of the most vulnerable children in the country. Unaccompanied children are alone, in an unfamiliar country and may be surrounded by people unable to speak their first language. Modern slavery includes human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Exploitation takes a number of forms, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, forced criminality, begging, organ harvesting and domestic servitude and victims may come from all walks of life.

Unaccompanied children are likely to be uncertain or unaware of their rights and whom they should trust. They are at increased risk of going missing, often leaving the care of those who would protect them to return to traffickers who will continue their exploitation. All groups may have experienced emotional trauma in their country of birth, on their journey to the UK or through their treatment by adults in the UK.

Local authorities have a duty to protect and support these highly vulnerable children. Because of the circumstances they have faced, unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking, often have complex needs in addition to those faced by looked after children more generally. The support required to address these needs must begin as soon as the child is referred to the local authority or is found in the local authority area. It will be most effective where this support is provided through a stable, continuous relationship with the child.

This guidance sets out the steps local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for looked after children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children, unaccompanied migrant children or child victims of modern slavery including trafficking. Elements of this guidance will also be relevant for the care of looked after UK nationals who may also be child victims of modern slavery. It does not provide detailed guidance on steps that local authorities should take, in partnership with other agencies, to identify and protect child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking, before they become looked after. This is described in practice guidance Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked, published by the Department for Education and Home Office in 2011.