Protecting children from modern slavery and exploitation

Overhead view of young boy standing in front of window.

The new project will analyse the gaps in the UK’s response to internal trafficking of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

  • 12 July 2022
  • 4 min read

A new project is hoping to protect children with special educational needs and disabilities from modern slavery.

It is one of five projects announced by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) aiming to identify opportunities to redesign wider laws and policies to better safeguard against modern slavery.

The Portsmouth research project will analyse the gaps in the UK’s response to internal trafficking of children with special educational needs and disabilities within England and Wales.

The team from the University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth City Council and the Ann Craft Trust (a Nottingham-based non-profit organisation that helps to safeguard adults and young people at risk), will analyse current laws, policies and guidance to understand gaps in protection for children with special educational needs and disabilities who experience exploitation. It will also analyse recently closed case files of children and interview parents and carers of those affected to better understand the support they received, the level of involvement of the child and family in decision making, and what would better support the children’s safety and recovery.

The interplay of a number of factors increases the risk for this group of children and young people to be trafficked and exploited. Yet these children can be invisible or hidden in plain sight where neither their exploitation or additional needs are recognised or met.

Anita Franklin, Professor of Childhood Studies

The team will also carry out two online consultations with statutory and voluntary frontline organisations to understand the barriers to protecting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities from their perspective.

Anita Franklin, Professor of Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth, who is leading the project, said: “The interplay of a number of factors increases the risk for this group of children and young people to be trafficked and exploited. Yet these children can be invisible or hidden in plain sight where neither their exploitation or additional needs are recognised or met. Higher rates of school exclusions, isolation and lack of support for families have been shown to impact this group disproportionately.

“Currently there are gaps in safeguarding policy and guidance to support the identification of this group of children, nor do they provide mechanisms for appropriate planning and practice responses for multi-agency services. This study will place a much-needed focus on children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities aiming to identify where improvements in law, policy and guidance can support better protection.”

The projects are a result of a funding call issued by the Modern Slavery PEC in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation. The programme aims to produce evidence to better understand structural and systemic factors underpinning modern slavery.

This study will place a much-needed focus on children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities aiming to identify where improvements in law, policy and guidance can support better protection.

Anita Franklin, Professor of Childhood Studies

“Modern slavery in its many forms results from multiple, overlapping drivers, creating situations where exploitation becomes easier to perpetrate,” added Professor Alex Balch, Director of Research at the Modern Slavery PEC.

Such factors can include poverty, exclusion or simply lack of opportunities for people to provide for themselves and their families. These in turn are often connected to areas of laws and policies that aren’t specifically focused on addressing modern slavery, such as immigration and asylum policies, labour market regulation, laws on sex work, safeguarding in health and social protection, trade and foreign policy, and many others.

The project research team: Professor Anita Franklin and Sarah Atkins from the University of Portsmouth, Sarah Goff from the Ann Craft Trust and Lucy Rylatt, Safeguarding Children Partnerships Manager, Portsmouth City Council.