County Council marks Anti-Slavery Day with behind-the-scenes look at work on child exploitation

Hampshire County Council is marking Anti-Slavery Day by shining a light on the vital work carried out by its award-winning Willow Team, recognised nationally for its role in protecting children and young people from modern day slavery, trafficking and exploitation

Oct 18 2023

Anti-Slavery Day takes place every year on 18 October, providing an opportunity to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery. This year, the County Council has released a video about its specialist multi-agency Willow Team which supports missing and trafficked children and those who are either at risk of, or who are being exploited. It works directly with children in local communities and schools, as well as with partner organisations, and has trained thousands of professionals to spot and deal with child exploitation. The team has been commended for its joint work with the Police, Education, Health and others.

Councillor Edward Heron, the County Council’s Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, said: “Working as one team with our partners is absolutely vital to making sure that children are kept safe, and our Willow Team has shown itself to be a real leader and innovator in this field. The team does incredible and largely unseen work to protect some of our most vulnerable children and young people, but this wouldn’t be possible without the support of the public coming forward and raising concerns.

“The term ‘modern day slavery’ can feel antiquated and somewhat removed from modern life. But slavery exists in today’s world, and the more we talk about it, the more people may recognise it and come forward to report it. This can feel daunting but it’s important to remember that all concerns, even if you’re unsure, should always be reported. Doing so is extremely easy and yet it’s no exaggeration to say, this one small action could irrevocably change a child or young person’s life.”

Safeguarding concerns can be reported by phoning Hampshire Children’s Services on 0300 555 1384. Phone lines are open Monday to Thursday from 8.30am to 5pm, and on Friday from 8.30am to 4.30pm. The out-of-hours service operates at all other times and can be reached by calling 0300 555 1373. Visit the County Council's website for more information.

Modern day slavery can take many forms of exploitation such as domestic servitude but also criminal and sexual exploitation, forced labour and more. It can also involve grooming whereby the perpetrator establishes a relationship of trust so they can then manipulate, exploit and abuse their victim.

The signs of slavery vary depending on the type of exploitation taking place. For children and young people, the most common signs are:

  • Unexplained money or valuables, which could be signs of grooming
  • Unexplained absences from school or college
  • Going missing
  • Evidence of alcohol or drugs misuse
  • Signs of sexual abuse or changes in intimate relationships
  • Evidence of assault
  • Controlling and / or changes in relationships
  • Excessive phone calls / text messages
  • Concerning use of internet or social media
  • Secretiveness
  • Self harm

There are other forms of slavery targeting people who have come to the UK from another country, including very vulnerable children who have arrived here on their own - these will also have their own unique ‘telltale’ signs. The County Council has a duty to bring unaccompanied children seeking asylum into care through the National Transfer Scheme, and the Local Authority’s Refugee Teams work hard to assess the risks to these children and make sure they are protected, supported and cared for as they settle into life in the UK.

The Local Authority is also part of the Modern Slavery Partnership, a coalition of agencies and organisations working together across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to combat modern day slavery, support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. For more information about different types of slavery affecting all ages, and the associated signs to look out for, please visit the Modern Slavery Partnership website.