Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Kids aren’t all right

Europe needs a cross border social work agency to tackle the growth in international child exploitation

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Progress are currently holding a series of excellent events exploring what we, the members, would like to see an incoming successor to the prime minister tackle in his/her first 100 days. Here is mine: a European child protection register supported by a dedicated specialist European social work agency.

In recent years, Europe has experienced new internal and external migrancy patterns. Apart from the many obvious benefits this has encouraged, there have also been increasing concern for those who have been vulnerable to the iniquitous side of this progress. Where poverty, the refugee experience or other such drivers have determined child migrancy, there has been serious concern for their welfare and protection. Organised crime involving trafficking and misuse of the internet has opened up new vistas of opportunity for those seeking to exploit children, as evidenced by Operation Ore.

Cross border social work requires professionals with the experience and ability to demonstrate appropriate sensitivities to issues that often emerge within the international arena. A dedicated international social work agency working in partnership with local child protection services, but solely focusing on the cross border component of child protection work, is urgently needed. It is a travesty that currently, a child may be considered to be at such significant risk of harm they are placed on an ‘at risk’ register (or similar) in one country, only for this information to be entirely inaccessible if a child moves to another country, even within the EU. Practitioners in the UK often complain about this being the case between local authorities here, and this situation must end. It is counter to our ethical and, in my view, legal duty to protect children.

A cross border agency would enable opportunities to share sensitive information between statutory child welfare agencies, embed learning, and be a foundation of international partnerships concerned with child welfare issues. It would also be in a better position to provide social work support for children caught up in Interpol/Europol investigations – its role to solely focus on supporting children.

To develop the required level of international cooperation, strategic governmental support is required. In the UK, former Home Office minister Des Browne offered the following observations and support: ‘In my view, the concept of adopting an international approach through professionalised social services is a very attractive proposition. It presents a significant challenge to the government to generate co-operation with other countries with a view to putting in place the level of co-operation necessary to ensure that appropriate standards are applied across international boundaries.’

The time for parochialism is over. Agencies and governments need to work together to address this problem.

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Laurence Chester

is the director of Marchbid

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