Thousands of children affected by modern slavery are being failed by system 

There are at least 5,000 children of modern slavery victims in the UK and the majority are not getting the support they need, with many more potentially lost in the system. That’s according to a new report by the crisis charity Hestia. 

Read the 'Forgotten Children' report now

The charity, which supports over 2,200 adult victims of modern slavery and 1,200 dependent children each year, says that children who were with their parents while they were exploited, or born as a result of exploitation, are not being recognised and often experience profound trauma.  

In its report, ‘Forgotten Children’ Hestia have estimated 5,000 children are being affected but warns the actual figure could be much higher. The report, which examines the experiences of mothers and children supported by Hestia, found that a mother’s trauma can have a deep and long-lasting impact on a child’s life, even leading to developmental delays and poor mental health. 

Hestia is calling on the government to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and enable children of modern slavery victims to be recognised as victims in their own right alongside introducing a new system of Children and Family Advocates to focus on the needs of the child. 

Over the last decade modern slavery in the UK has been on the rise and it is estimated that there are as many as 100,000 victims. Women make up about a third of all victims of modern slavery in the UK, with many commonly forced into sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.  

As well as recognising children as victims in law, Hestia is calling for training for health professionals, teachers and social workers, to improve their understanding of how modern slavery can impact a mother and child.  

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive at Hestia, said: 

“Rebuilding a life after the trauma of modern slavery is a long and difficult journey. The risk of intergenerational transmission of this trauma is great. What is clear from our research is that we are failing survivors and their children. They are being overlooked, misunderstood, and forgotten. Too often, the support put in place to help families does not understand their needs, making their recovery journeys harder and longer. The powerful and sustaining hope we hear from mothers who have survived modern slavery is that they want a better life for their children. We must not let them down.  All women and their children impacted by modern slavery need and deserve protection, understanding and support. Only then can they begin to rebuild their lives.” 

Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:  

“Hestia’s important report considers the experiences of mothers who are victims of modern slavery and human trafficking, and also examines the experiences of their children. It clearly highlights that even in cases where a child has not been directly exploited themselves, the impact of a mother’s experience on their development and mental health can be significant. This cohort of children is also extremely vulnerable to further harm and I support the calls made by this research to ensure that professionals working with individuals and their families understand these risks. It is vital that the children of modern slavery victims and survivors can access the support that is required to meet their needs through each stage of childhood, and I welcome Hestia’s focus on this issue.” 

A survivor of modern slavery said:  

“My son was born after I had escaped slavery. I was isolated. When you feel so alone it’s so hard to cope. I was very concerned about my son and the delays in his speech, so I went to the GP and asked the Health Visitor for help, but they just told me not to worry. But I said, ‘look my son was talking and now he has stopped – something is wrong’. But they didn’t see the gap between his age and his development. The most difficult thing is that he can’t express himself. He can’t tell me his needs, like ‘mummy I want bread, or water, or a book’, or anything like that. It’s hard, and it was very difficult when they gave him the diagnosis of Autism because I was not aware of it and didn’t know what it meant or how to help him. I felt like the world was finished, like I didn’t have a life anymore.” 

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Notes to editors:  

For press and media enquiries please contact: [email protected] | 07845 555 995. 

  • The report is being launched at an exclusive roundtable in central London with leading experts from the sector. A full report can be sent in advance.

  • A written case study can be shared.  

  • Last year, more than 10,000 potential victims of modern slavery were referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the government’s process for identifying victims. Hestia supported three-quarters of the women referred into the NRM. However, campaigners and charities argue that there could be up to 100,000 victims of modern slavery currently in the UK. 

About Hestia: 

For 50 years, Hestia has provided support and hope every step of the way of recovery. Today, millions of people are experiencing domestic abuse, modern slavery and challenges with their mental health. Hestia believes no-one should suffer alone. Together, we can make sure people find a life beyond crisis. 

At Hestia we support adults and children in times of crisis. We deliver services across London and the surrounding regions, as well as campaign and advocate nationally on the issues that affect the people we work with. Last year we supported 15,238 men, women and children. This includes victims of modern slavery, women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, young care leavers and older people. From giving someone a home, to helping them to get the right mental health support, we support people at the moment of crisis and enable them to build a life beyond a crisis. We are supported by over 900 volunteers across London who provide specialist skills such as art therapy, yoga, IT, gardening and cooking, as well as befriending and fundraising.