Page last updated at 00:57 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

'Hundreds' go missing from care

Prostitute (generic)
Many people who are trafficked are forced into prostitution

As many as 389 young people have gone missing from care since 2000, according to a survey of local authorities by the Care Leavers' Association.

The report suggests the majority are asylum seekers targeted by traffickers after arriving in the UK.

The charity is calling on the government to provide more resources to help them escape from traffickers.

The figures from 155 local authorities in England and Wales were collected through the Freedom of Information Act.

The survey indicated while some local authorities could account for all the young people in their care, 41 had seen young people go missing without a trace.

The figures were based on 155 responses from 172 requests for information.

'Quick disappearances'

The survey found those going missing were predominantly from the south of England and the majority were young people seeking asylum.

West Sussex County Council, which includes Gatwick airport in its area, reported 110 young people missing.

Hillingdon Council, in which Heathrow airport is located, reported 45 missing since 2000. It said the majority of these were people who went missing within a week of arriving in the country.

There's a clear correlation between children going missing and being trafficked which the government is continuing to ignore
Victoria Hull
Care Leavers' Association

Six authorities said they could not respond to the survey because they did not keep records of those missing from care.

While the charity said it could not give a definite conclusion, local authorities had said the majority of young people who went missing were asylum seekers.

Many ran away within a week of being taken into care to contact the traffickers who had brought them into the UK, researchers said.

Others were British-based young people who ran away from care for a variety of reasons, including unsuitable family placements, they added.

Victoria Hull, from the Care Leavers' Association, said: "If they don't go with the person who has brought them into the UK they fear what will happen to them or their families back home.

"Some are young people who are running away from fear of being trafficked."

There are currently no safe houses for trafficked children in the UK.

Safe houses

The charity is calling on local authorities to do as much as they can to find these children in the same way a parent would for a child who had gone missing from home.

The fact that some children do go missing is an ongoing concern for everyone involved in the protection of children
Local Government Association

Christine Beddoe, the director of Ecpat UK, which campaigns for better protection for trafficked children, said an urgent inquiry was needed into every child which had gone missing.

"The information highlights the need for guardians of unsupported children from abroad. There's a clear correlation between children going missing and being trafficked which the government is continuing to ignore," she said.

Hillingdon Council said it dealt with more unaccompanied asylum seekers than any other borough in the country.

Julian Wooster, deputy director of children and families, said: "Trafficking is a major concern for authorities across the country and more action needs to be taken to address the circumstances in which young people are brought into the country."

'Sophisticated methods'

West Sussex County Council has a team of social workers based at Gatwick airport to identify and help trafficked young people, with measures including 24-hour supervision.

It said it spent 3.5m each year to care for unaccompanied children seeking asylum.

A spokeswoman said: "The traffickers appear better organised and increasingly sophisticated in their methods. This impacts on the number of young people going missing."

The Local Government Association said councils across the country had "robust systems" in place to protect children in care.

"The fact that some children do go missing is an ongoing concern for everyone involved in the protection of children and dealing with this continues to be a high priority.

"Councils will continue to do all they can to work with the police to protect the most vulnerable young people," a spokesman said.

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