Child trafficking: Scores missing from UK care homes
Trafficked children and unaccompanied child asylum seekers are going missing from UK care homes at "an alarmingly high rate", two charities have said.
Almost 600 children disappeared last year, with more than 200 still missing, ECPAT UK and Missing People said.
The charities called on the UK government and local authorities to reform the child protection system.
The Department for Education said it had commissioned "specialist training" for those caring for the children.
The two charities collected the latest annual figures provided to them by more than 200 local authorities across the UK.
The study, which will be presented in parliament later, found 167 children - more than a quarter of all trafficked children in the UK care system - went missing at least once in the 12 months to September 2015.
It found some 593 unaccompanied children in the UK - 13% of the total number - also disappeared at least once.
Of those, 207 trafficked and unaccompanied children have not been found.
Charities say the figures reveal a "deeply concerning" inconsistency in identifying and recording information on vulnerable children.
They say the figures suggest the UK's child protection response was "inadequate" and the system has left children vulnerable to being trafficked again and open to abuse.
The report also found:
- London, the South East, East Anglia and the East and West Midlands accounted for 75% of all 590 trafficked children in the UK
- Those areas also accounted for 90% of all 4,744 unaccompanied children in the UK
- Councils in Thurrock, Hillingdon, Croydon, Kent and Surrey had the highest numbers of children going missing
- The top three nationalities of missing trafficked children were Vietnamese, British and Albanian
- Albanian, Afghan, Vietnamese and Eritrean children accounted for the highest proportion of missing unaccompanied children
Chloe Setter, from ECPAT UK - which campaigns against child trafficking - said it was "a national disgrace" that the issue of vulnerable children going missing had "remained neglected".
The report had "unearthed an alarming trend of our most vulnerable children disappearing", she added.
"We must not accept this as a reality any longer. Every child that goes missing is a failure in our duty to protect them from harm," she said.
'Duty' on councils
Susannah Drury, from Missing People, said trafficked and unaccompanied children were "especially vulnerable and in greater need of protection".
She said it was "vital" that trafficked or unaccompanied children who go missing are treated as "high risk by the police and other agencies and that finding them and making them safe is always prioritised over any questions about their immigration status or criminal activity".
A Local Government Association spokesman said councils "do all they can" to help identify and support children at risk, but he said the pressure on local services was growing.
"With increasing demand on the care system, both from children in the UK and from the hundreds of children expected to arrive over the next few weeks after the Calais camp clearance, and with councils expressing their concern about the funding available, the system continues to be under significant pressure," he added.
A Department for Education spokesman said it had "already strengthened" regulations on children's homes and local authorities now have "a duty to tell us about all incidents of young people going missing".
"But we know trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are especially vulnerable.
"That's why we have commissioned specialist training for those caring for them, committed to an independent advocate in each area to help champion their rights and outlined clear plans for a new government strategy to look at their particular needs, including reviewing the accommodation available."