Over 230 delegates drawn from police forces, PCCs, government departments, local authorities, social services, anti-slavery partnerships, national charities, NGOs and healthcare agencies attended the third MPSTU national partnership conference held in Birmingham on the 27th September 2019. The theme of the event was to share knowledge, ideas and best practice on how partnership work can be developed to better protect children from exploitation. Key objectives set for the conference were to look at:
- Better understanding the scale of child criminal exploitation in the UK
- Working to develop best practice and innovation
- How to strengthen networks and to respond effectively
- Better understanding the complexities of tackling child criminal exploitation
- Developing appropriate victim focused response.
The event was opened and introduced by PCCs Mark Burns-Williamson OBE and Alison Hernandez (by video link), both of whom are focused on promoting the practical role that police and crime commissioners can play in coordinating local responses to all forms of modern slavery.
As the PCC for West Yorkshire and Chair of the National Anti-Slavery and Trafficking Network (NATMSN), Mark Burns Williamson recognises the continuing progress made in protecting vulnerable people as tackling modern slavery offences is increasingly identified within police and crime plans. However, as awareness of modern slavery grows, it is now more apparent than ever that vulnerable children are being specifically targeted, trafficked and exploited by organised crime at locations across the UK.
Devon and Cornwall PCC Alison Hernandez is the Chair of the national Modern Slavery Police Transformation Programme Board and is directly concerned that police forces have the partnership support, resources, tools and training available to help them respond to modern slavery related crime. Appearing at the conference by video, she welcomed the extension of Modern Slavery Police Transformation Programme funding, to March 2020, announced by the Home Office in May 2019. This has allowed police to continue to support events like the “Protecting Children” conference in addition to a range of continuing activities designed to help forces improve in tackling offences based on the exploitation of vulnerable people by organised crime groups.
The speaker line-up at the “Protecting Children” conference covered a wide range of perspectives including input from; The Children’s Commissioner for England, The Children’s Society, Barnardo’s, Home Office, St Giles Trust, ECPAT, the Human Trafficking Foundation, the Crown Prosecution Service, PCCs and police forces.
Key topics raised by speakers included:
- How understanding of the scale and type of risks of exploitation that children face at a local level is currently poor, fragmented and must be improved.
- Why it is important to identify children at risk as early as possible, and that those risks are followed up with appropriate, coordinated and cost effective multi-agency intervention.
- How exclusion from mainstream education represents a single point of failure and should be avoided as far as possible. The “off-rolling” of challenging children by schools purely to promote academic performance is unacceptable, as once a child is moved to PRUs or other similar establishments their risk of exploitation is heightened.
- It is increasingly recognised that children are actively selected and recruited into criminal exploitation on the grounds of their vulnerability. All children can be at risk though those with special educational needs or who are excluded from school are particularly vulnerable.
- The county lines business model specifically targets and exploits vulnerable children and young people in the distribution of drugs and in other forms of crime.
- Sharp increases in NRM referrals in recent years have been significantly driven by the exploitation and identification of young people in drugs crime.
- Why it is important to identify whether a young person could be a victim of exploitation as soon as possible in any police investigation, and in any subsequent criminal justice process.
- Why solicitors need to be certain they are providing clients with the best possible advice in respect of the MSA Section 45 defence.
- Why it is important to find the right balance in the use of the MSA Section 45 defence; in protecting genuine victims of child criminal exploitation while also preventing the wrongful acquittal of the guilty.
- Progress updates were shared on the rollout of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian service and on the child exploitation disruption toolkit available from the Home Office.
- Lessons to learn and improvement ideas were shared in the way police forces respond in the investigation and follow-up of cases where children are reported as missing.
- The question was asked about whether youth can be considered a defence in itself, and what needs to be done to improve the support services available to young people who may be victims of criminal exploitation.
- Several speakers echoed calls to establish a national strategy for the prevention and avoidance of child criminal exploitation. Such an initiative would incorporate improved data collection and plans for better services to be made available for children at risk as well as for victims.
For more information about the presentations given at the event contact the programme team at: email@example.com