What do we know about… safe accommodation and alternative care for children affected by sexual exploitation and related trafficking?
The family is the natural environment in which to promote the well-being and development of children. All efforts must be made to enable a child to remain or return to the care of his or her parents. When the child is unable or unwilling to return home, and extended family are not able to care for the child, the state is responsible for ensuring appropriate alternative care for every child (UN, 2010; UN, 1989).
Some children affected by sexual exploitation, or trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, may spend a period of time being cared for outside of the family home.
Children who are identified as being in an exploitative situation may be placed in an emergency shelter, or other short-term placement, while a plan is put in place to reunite them with their family. If it is determined, through best interest processes, that children are unable to return home, they may be placed in foster care, in a semi-supported independent living arrangement or transferred to a medium to long-term placement in a residential care facility. For children who are deemed to be in need of another permanent family, an adoptive family may be sought, particularly for younger children.
Every child is different and the individual needs, unique experiences and age of each child must be considered when exploring alternative care options outside of the family. In an ideal situation there should be a number of different care options available for every child to ensure the best fit. Children should be able to have their views heard regarding their care and be involved in regular reviews to ensure the placement is still appropriate. It is critical that all children have a care plan in place for integration or reintegration into the community.
Within the sector, the term ‘safe accommodation’ tends to be used rather than ‘alternative care’. For children affected by sexual exploitation and trafficking, safety may be a concern due to the risks posed by exploiters and abusers. However, in some cases, short-term stays in high security settings can turn into long- term stays in inappropriate environments.
This summary presents some of the key findings from general research on alternative care; as well as studies that have considered the needs and experiences of separated, sexually exploited and trafficked children. The paper highlights what we think we know about some of the challenges and tensions of providing safe accommodation and alternative care for children, along with some of the strategies and models that have been employed to accommodate this specific population.