Loading content

Trafficking of children with special educational needs and disability

Research project analysing gaps in the England and Wales' response to trafficking of children with special educational needs and disabilities.

Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in the UK face increased risks of modern slavery.

Trafficking of children within the UK is increasing each year. In particular, this is due to an increase in the criminal exploitation of children.

Children and young people with SEND face additional vulnerabilities not only as children, but also due to unmet needs associated with their disability, and disproportionate levels of school exclusion, bullying and social isolation.

These increased risks are often not well understood by people from agencies and organisations tasked with supporting children with SEND , who often don’t receive training in protection of children and young people who are disabled.

Due to the need for multi-agency responses, children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, particularly children with learning disabilities and neuro-diverse children, often fall through gaps in services, meaning they rarely receive support tailored to meet individual and specific needs. Signs and indicators of trafficking or exploitation, such as behavioural changes, can be missed or misattributed to an impairment.

Research led by the University of Portsmouth in partnership with the Ann Craft Trust and Portsmouth City Council Safeguarding Children Partnership will identify the gaps in England and Wales' response and support of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities, who have experienced modern slavery.

The team will map and analyse current laws, policies and guidance to understand gaps where children with special educational needs and disabilities who experience exploitation can be better protected. It will also analyse recently closed case files of children with SEND who have experienced modern slavery to identify risks, indicators of vulnerability and responses to their experiences.

The team will also interview parents and carers of children who have been exploited and episodes of going missing to better understand the support they received, their needs that weren’t met, the level of involvement of the child and family in decision making and what would better support the children’s safety and recovery.

Finally, the team will carry out two online consultations with statutory and voluntary frontline organisations to understand the barriers to protecting children and young people with SEND from their perspective, and suggestions for improvement of laws and policies in this area.

Research team: Professor Anita Franklin, Sarah Atkins, Dr Jo Greenaway-Clarke (University of Portsmouth), Sarah Goff (Ann Craft Trust), Lucy Rylatt, Safeguarding Children Partnerships, Portsmouth City Council.

This research was funded by an open call on the links between modern slavery and wider laws and policies, run in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council.