A month in news: five stories on children’s rights, wellbeing and challenges from July

  • Date: 10 August 2023
  • In: UK

From new legislation raising concerns about children’s safety to warnings of exploitation risks during the summer holidays, July was a busy month in the UK media for issues related to young people.

We’re kicking off our Month in News series by looking at five prominent stories that hit the headlines, both directly and indirectly related to our work at Railway Children.

1. Illegal Migration Act raises concerns for child protection

Following widespread criticism from the UN, charities and campaign groups, the Illegal Migration Bill became law last month after receiving royal assent. Under the new legislation, people arriving in small boats to the UK – many of whom are refugees seeking safety – will now face detention and possible removal from the country.

Serious concerns have been raised about the damaging impact on children who are detained, and that those who have been trafficked, are fleeing abuse or persecution won’t receive the protection they need. There is also the fear that young people will be exploited by criminal gangs and disappear into society knowing that they face deportation at the age of 18.

Railway Children believes that all children deserve the same protection, wherever they come from.

That’s why, in July, we joined with a coalition of hundreds of organisations to sign a statement in solidarity with anyone who seeks safety in the UK.


2. Criminal gangs continue to use social media to exploit young people

Following reports earlier this year about professional-looking adverts on social media luring children into drug trafficking, the BBC recently did an investigation into Snapchat being used by county lines gangs to groom teenagers. Despite the app insisting that it proactively regulates content to detect and prevent drug dealing, the investigation raises the question of whether social media firms need to be doing more to protect vulnerable young people from falling into harm’s way.

County Lines Gangs will often exploit children into illegally transporting drugs using the UK transport network.

Our Safeguarding Action Groups bring the rail community together to identify and respond to any concerns for the safety of children and young people on public transport, including potential victims of criminal exploitation.

3. Teens in Care documentary highlights shortfalls in the social care system

Joe Swash’s poignant BBC documentary hit headlines last month after shedding light on the untold stories of teenagers in the UK care system. In the documentary, the TV personality meets young people who live in foster care and residential children’s homes, as well as 18-year-olds who have left care, to speak about the challenges they face. The documentary follows the publication of the independent review of children’s social care and highlights some of the system’s failings that Railway Children seeks to address.

Our research shows that 84% of the children and young people we are currently working with who have been involved in social care have been missing at some stage.

We are part of the English Coalition for Runaway Children (ECRC), which aims to safeguard young people who run away or are missing, including those in care settings.


4. Record number of children at risk of exploitation this summer, warns Barnardo’s

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has warned that young people are increasingly at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation during the summer holidays, as the cost-of-living crisis means they will have less adult supervision.

The charity’s latest report revealed that 6 in 10 parents won’t be able to afford to take time off work or pay for activities and clubs, putting children at a ‘greater risk of exploitation both online and in the community’ with a ‘higher likelihood they will go unidentified and unsupported’.

The report also highlights the lack of youth centres and safe spaces for children to spend time in, as well as insufficient specialist support for victims of exploitation.

Our experience has shown us that many children and teenagers get found in and around transport hubs by predators, gangs and criminals who are looking to exploit and abuse them.

As well as raising awareness of vulnerability across the rail network, our Youth Practitioners work with children, young people and their parents before, during and after they’re on the streets to help make families stronger.


5. Labour leader under fire for U-turn on two-child benefit cap

Kier Starmer faced backlash from poverty campaigners and his own party for confirming they would keep the two-child benefit cap. The controversial policy, which was brought in by former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, stops parents from claiming child tax credit or universal credit for a third or subsequent child born after April 2017.

Despite the government’s claims that the policy would encourage parents to make decisions about children based on what they could afford, research shows that it has impoverished families. There has been strong criticism of the cap since it was introduced, with many MPs and organisations calling for it to be abolished to reduce child poverty.

At Railway Children, we understand the devastating impact poverty can have on families in the UK and across the world.

With the cost-of-living crisis putting more pressure on parents, we’re committed to helping rebuild families broken down by poverty and conflict using a trauma-informed approach. We offer one-to-one support with no judgement, no cost and for as long as it takes to create a safe and stable home.

Stay tuned for our August news recap on children and young people’s issues next month.