The Cleveland region has formed a robust response to modern slavery through the creation of its Anti-Slavery network in 2018, which has seen key partners collaborate on actions to prevent, identify, and ultimately end human trafficking and modern slavery.
The Cleveland police area in the North East of England covers the four unitary authorities of Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees. The area spans 230 square miles with a combined population of over 554,000, and has a mix of population densities ranging from the significantly rural Redcar and Cleveland to the large urban area of Middlesbrough.
The Cleveland local authorities have encountered few cases of modern slavery, with Middlesbrough, the region’s most urban authority, having processed eight adult cases in 2021.
Despite this, the region has formed a robust response to modern slavery through the creation of its Anti-Slavery network in 2018. Commissioned by the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, the network has seen key partners collaborate on actions to prevent, identify, and ultimately end human trafficking and modern slavery.
The region’s response includes the creation of a Cleveland-wide victim care pathway, which enables local partners to work with councils and health services to identify victims of modern slavery and refer them to the appropriate support.
The accommodation pathway
Now 18 months into implementation, the victim care pathway is well-established. However, the Cleveland authorities identified issues with procuring emergency accommodation for the people referred into the pathway, given that survivors may not have identification documents, could have specific requirements around the location of accommodation, and typically need a safe place to stay at very short notice. These issues had resulted in some victims being placed in accommodation in a location that did not allow them to access the appropriate health services.
In response, the councils proactively sought advice and training from the West Midlands Combined Authority and have subsequently developed a Cleveland-wide offer. This is intended to ensure that emergency hotel accommodation and the appropriate wrap-around support is always available in one of the four Cleveland authorities in the period before victims enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
Individuals enter the accommodation pathway following a referral from Cleveland police to named contacts within the councils’ safeguarding and housing support teams. As the police are designated first responders, they will only refer individuals whom they consider has adult social care needs, based on a list of triggers provided to them by the council. The councils’ adult social care teams then make a decision about whether to provide support to individuals based on whether individuals meet the threshold for safeguarding support.
However, as victims of modern slavery have invariably faced trauma and abuse, the Cleveland councils treat them as having care and support needs as a matter of course, meaning individuals do not need to meet the strict criteria set out in the 2014 Care Act to access support. This approach also recognises that victims of modern slavery may have been susceptible to abuse because of pre-existing vulnerabilities.
Once in the pathway, individuals will be able to access emergency hotel accommodation in one of the four Cleveland councils, arranged by the relevant homelessness team but funded by adult social care. The location is flexible depending on individual’s needs and preferences, and victims are also able to access multi-agency support whilst in the accommodation. The provision ends once individuals enter the National Referral Mechanism, at which point they are able to access safehouse accommodation.
Once individuals leave NRM accommodation, local housing authorities take lead responsibility for their support. Whilst the council is exploring ways to improve joint working between housing and adult social care teams in the post-NRM period, the victims leaving the NRM have to date not presented with care needs: practical needs such as accessing healthcare and obtaining ID documents are typically met whilst they are in safehouse accommodation, and people leaving safehouses are left with a need for suitable accommodation and support with maintaining it.
To ensure that the accommodation and support provided by the pathway was high-quality, the Cleveland Anti-Slavery Partnership and West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network also collaborated to produce guidance for professionals working with victims in emergency hotel accommodation. The guidance covers pre-accommodation risk assessments, making bookings, providing food and material needs, considering health needs, communication with survivors and other professionals, and using interpreters.
Since its inception in early 2021, the accommodation pathway has not processed any victims. However, useful learning has emerged from the wider victim care pathway.
- Awareness amongst the partners making referrals is key to the pathway’s success. In Cleveland, the police complex exploitation team has a good awareness of the pathway and the correct points of contact within each council, but this awareness is patchy within other parts of the force and within other partner organisations. The Cleveland councils are exploring the possibility of offering training to partner organisations, with a “train the trainer” model ensuring that key contacts within partner organisations have the capacity and skills to train their colleagues, so that the partnership is resilient to staff turnover.
- Case conferences have provided an important space for partners across the police, social care, and health services to come together to identify and resolve practical issues with the pathway’s implementation.
- There is a lack of clarity in existing guidance around which services hold responsibility for resourcing pre-NRM accommodation. In Cleveland, the councils have come to an agreement that adult social care will fund any emergency accommodation provision.
- The core principle underlying the pathway is to understand points in the process at which victims might feel uncertain or anxious, or experience unmet needs, and design the pathway to meet these needs. To this end, the partnership is keen to ensure that victims have direct input into future iterations of the pathway.