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Modern Slavery PEC launches five new projects on survivor recovery

Modern slavery survivors in the driving seat in five new Modern Slavery PEC research projects.

Published: 8th September 2021

Key points:

  • Five research projects aim to improve key areas of support for people affected by modern slavery in the UK
  • Innovative projects to include survivors as those leading on research design and implementation, setting new standards for research
  • Portfolio of projects to cover survivors’ mental wellbeing, exploring and defining long term outcomes for adults and children, support for British nationals and establishing core outcomes to guide survivor support and policy.

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) announced five new innovative research projects from its call for research on survivor support and recovery.

The projects will aim to fill gaps in evidence on the best ways to improve the current support system for children and adults with lived experience of modern slavery so that it supports them in short and long-term recovery and fulfilling their full life potential.

The research funded in this call aims to cover a range of areas key to improving the policy response in the UK for survivor care, with three projects looking at adults and two at children affected by modern slavery practices. For adults, they include projects on survivors’ mental wellbeing, improving support for British nationals and establishing a set of core short and long term outcomes for survivors. For children, they’re set to improve participation and outcomes and examine best practice based on the example of the Scottish Guardianship Service.

“We are delighted to have world-class research teams collaborating with non-academic partners working at the cutting edge of key policy issues in the UK for survivor support and recovery,” said
Prof. Alex Balch, Director of Research at the Modern Slavery PEC.

The innovative projects funded in this call place children and adults with lived experience of modern slavery at their centre as those who play a key role in designing and implementing the research, rather than only as subjects of it.

“Survivor inclusion is one of the key principles of the Modern Slavery PEC’s research. We want to make sure that people with lived experience are truly at the centre of our research as peer researchers, and not in a superficial tokenistic way,” said Prof Balch. "We are hoping these projects will help set standards in this area."

Executive Chair of Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which funds the research, Professor Christopher Smith, said: “AHRC is committed to bringing marginalised communities into the research process and supporting research that is created, used and valued by all.

"Through listening to the people with lived experiences of modern slavery, the projects funded as part of this investment will make a vital contribution towards supporting and protecting some of the most vulnerable members of society.

"These projects are an example of the crucial role that AHRC is playing in tackling contemporary challenges in order to build a better future for all.”

Research led by people with lived experience of modern slavery is at its relative infancy. Including them in projects as researchers requires a different approach that puts survivor voice and presence at the forefront to help build their capacity to co-produce robust academic research. The projects will contribute to building knowledge of how to do it effectively and maintain survivors’ wellbeing.

Prof Caroline Bradbury-Jones from University of Birmingham, who is leading the project examining the impact of psychological support offered currently in the UK on mental wellbeing of people affected by modern slavery, said: “Working with peer researchers has become increasingly practiced in research, but we need to understand how to do it well and safely. This is particularly the case when researching with survivors of any form of violence and abuse.”

Dr. Minh Dang from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham and director of Survivor Alliance, who is co-leading the same project, said: “We are very excited to integrate people with lived experience throughout this entire project. Meaningful inclusion of survivors is long overdue and they need to be at the table to influence policies concerning them.”

Dr Patricia Hynes from University of Bedfordshire, who is leading on a project to put young people at the heart of understanding what positive outcomes mean in practice, said: “It is only by working together with young people who have experienced human trafficking or exploitation that we can hope to understand what is important for their pathways towards positive outcomes. If we listen carefully, we might find solutions that align with the UK’s global commitments.”

Dr Maggie Grant from the University of Stirling, who is leading the project examining sustainable support for trafficked children, using the example of Scottish Guardianship Service, said: “We know that recovery from child trafficking is a long-term process, but the current evidence base largely focuses on experiences of exploitation and immediate short-term needs.

"We’re delighted that this funding means we can work with young people and our project partners to address important questions about what happens next for children affected by trafficking to not just survive but thrive in the long term.“

Dr Carole Murphy from St Marys University Twickenham, who is leading on the project aiming to improve support for British survivors of modern slavery, said: “The support for people who were identified as survivors of modern slavery in the UK was established with the needs of foreign nationals in mind. Although awareness of the plight of British nationals affected by modern slavery has grown in recent years, the specific needs of British Survivors have not been well understood. Our study aims to change that and produce clearer protocols for improved support going forward."

Dr Sian Oram from King’s College London, who is leading the project establishing core outcomes to guide service and policy evaluations, said: “At the moment, there is no agreement about which outcomes are the most important for the recovery of people who went through modern slavery, so it’s difficult to understand what policy and support interventions work best and for whom. The Modern Slavery Core Outcome Set will provide a standard that all interventions should be measured against, supporting improvements to survivor care.”

About modern slavery

Modern slavery is an umbrella term for practices in which people are trapped, controlled and exploited in situations they can't escape because of threats, violence, or someone taking advantage of their vulnerability. It includes practices such as human trafficking, forced labour, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation or exploitation for criminal activities.

Modern slavery affects estimated millions worldwide and tens of thousands in the UK. In the UK, there were 10,613 individuals referred in 2020 as “potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking” to the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying people affected and referring them to relevant support services. Approximately half of referrals were for adults and half for children; with the UK, Albania and Vietnam the three most common nationalities to be referred. The most common type of exploitation for adults is labour exploitation and criminal exploitation for minors.

List of projects from the Modern Slavery PEC Survivor Support and Recovery call for research.

1. Placing Survivor Wellbeing on the Policy and Evidence Map

Research team led by University of Birmingham, in collaboration with the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, Anti-Slavery International, West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network and the Survivor Alliance, is examining the role of mental wellbeing in recovery for survivors of modern slavery, as well as innovative methods for incorporating survivor voice into research.

A key element of the project is the inclusion of people with lived experience of modern slavery in research as peer researchers, who will be involved with research design, data collection, and analysis. The project will also assess whether the process of being a peer-researcher impacts on the wellbeing of the collaborating survivors.

Principal Investigator: Prof Caroline Bradbury-Jones, University of Birmingham, with Co-PI Dr. Minh Dang.

Partners: University of Birmingham, Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, Survivor Alliance.

2. Improving support for British survivors of modern slavery

A research team led by St Mary’s University Twickenham, collaborating with the London School of Economics and Political Science and Justice & Care, works to examine the experience of British nationals with lived experience of modern slavery in the support and criminal justice systems in the UK. Many British nationals identified as survivors of modern slavery in the UK are often poorly supported, which is particularly problematic for those who face prosecution for crimes they have been forced to commit.

The team will work to examine the dynamics behind the patterns of modern slavery in the domestic context; to identify barriers to support faced by British nationals; and to highlight interventions to support their recovery.

Principal Investigator: Dr Carole Murphy, St Marys University Twickenham.

Partners: St Marys University, London School of Economics, Wilberforce Institute at the University of Hull, Justice & Care, Centre for Social Justice.

3. Improving participation and outcomes for children following modern slavery

A research project led by the Institute of Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire, in collaboration with Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), seeks to identify which outcomes of care and protection are most important from the perspectives of young people themselves, and what the pathways towards these outcomes might look like through survivor-led research.

The project will work with young people to identify their experiences and priorities, using arts and multi-media-based approaches to co-create projects on the themes of protection, recovery, inclusion, and empowerment. Devised alongside young people, the team will develop an outcomes framework for what short-, medium- or long-term positive outcomes might look like in the UK context.

Principal Investigator: Dr Patricia Hynes, University of Bedfordshire.

Partners: University of Bedfordshire, ECPAT UK

4. Modern Slavery Core Outcome Set

A shared understanding of what “success” looks like for survivors of modern slavery who access support services is needed to be able to compare programmes and services and understand what works best for whom. This means building consensus on the core outcomes and indicators of recovery from the perspectives of survivors, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers. Researchers and professionals can then agree to collect data on the same outcomes and indicators to compare the effectiveness of different programmes and services.

A research team from Kings College London, the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, and University East London, in collaboration with the Helen Bamber Foundation and Survivor Alliance, will aim to produce a Modern Slavery Core Outcome Set to address this issue, providing a framework for future evaluative research and practice.

Principal Investigator: Dr Sian Oram, King’s College London

Partners: King’s College London, University of East London, Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, Helen Bamber Foundation, Survivor Alliance.

5. Survivor-informed long-term support for trafficked children

A research team from the University of Stirling, in collaboration with Terre Des Hommes and Just Right Scotland, is exploring short, medium and long-term experiences of recovery in the UK, directly involving children and young people with lived experience of child trafficking. The research project will examine sustainable support for trafficked children, using the example of Scottish Guardianship Service.

The team will interview children who survived child trafficking as well as professionals who support them, including police officers, guardianship service workers, social workers, educators and foster carers. Working with young people, the project will use creative methods to co-produce narratives of recovery from different perspectives. Resources based on these narratives, including an animation and case studies, will focus on what helps or hinders children and young people's capacity to thrive at different stages.

Principal Investigator: Dr Maggie Grant, University of Stirling.

Partners: University of Stirling, Just Right Scotland, Terre des Hommes.