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5.7 Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation


This procedure is concerned with children arriving into the UK:

  • Alone;
  • In the care of adults who, whilst they may be their carers, have no Parental Responsibility for them;
  • In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
  • In the care of agents.

This is a broad cohort of children, and it may include (but is not limited to) children who have been subject to trafficking and/or modern slavery, and/or may have been exposed to the additional risks of commercial, sexual or domestic exploitation. It may also include children who have been trafficked internally within the UK.

Part 1 of this chapter covers issues which will apply across this cohort.

Part 2 of this chapter covers the additional issues which will apply where children are identified as being potential victims of trafficking and/or modern slavery.


This chapter was updated in November 2023. Information in relation to the National Age Assessment Board was added into Section 1.2.1, Age Assessments .


Caption: contents table
  Part 1 - All Children Presenting Alone or with Adults who are Not Their Parents
  Part 2 - Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery
  Further Information

Part 1 - All Children Presenting Alone or with Adults who are Not Their Parents

1.1 Introduction

Evidence shows that unaccompanied migrant children or those accompanied by someone who is not their parent are particularly vulnerable. Immigration legislation impacts significantly on work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from abroad.

It is important to note that regulations and legislation in this area of work are complex and subject to constant change through legal challenge. This guidance, therefore, intends to provide an overview of the additional issues faced by families and/or children set within the framework of immigration law. All practitioners need to be aware of this context in their contact with such families and/or children. Legal advice about individual cases may be required.

Additional issues are likely to arise in relation to this cohort of children, whether or not they are found to be, or suspected of being, victims of trafficking or modern slavery. Additional considerations in all cases are likely to include issues such as immigration status, the need for interpreters and specialist legal advice. Some of these children may have been persecuted and have witnessed or been subject to horrific acts of violence. Assessing the needs of these children is only possible if their legal status, background experiences and culture are understood, including the culture shock of arrival in this country.

Unaccompanied, internally displaced children may have come to the UK seeking asylum or may be here to attend school or join their family. An unaccompanied child may be the subject of a Private Fostering arrangement, and subsequently exploited or abandoned when the arrangement fails (see Children Living Away from Home (including Children and Families living in Temporary Accommodation) Procedure).   

Some children may say they are unaccompanied when claiming asylum - a trafficker may have told the child that in doing so they will be granted permission to stay in the UK and be entitled to claim welfare benefits.

A significant number of children who are referred to local authority care as trafficked children or unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), often then go missing and many go missing within one week. It is thought that they are then trafficked internally, within the UK, or out of the UK.

Whenever an unaccompanied child presents in a local authority area, all agencies dealing with the child should be alert to the possibility that the child may have been a victim of modern slavery, including the possibility that the child has been trafficked, and ensure that all relevant information about the child’s circumstances is communicated to Children’s Social Care. Information should be shared with consent where appropriate and where possible, but information can be shared without consent if the professional judgement is that there is good reason to do so, such as where their safety may be at risk.

If there are concerns that a child is a victim of trafficking, the practitioners will need to inform the National Referral Mechanism, which is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring that they receive the appropriate support. The child's details should be provided using the forms available on the National Referral Mechanism Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery.

In England and Wales, if someone is found not to be a victim of trafficking, the Competent Authority must go on to consider whether they are the victim of another form of modern slavery, which includes slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

This chapter should be read in conjunction with the following government guidance:

Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, November 2017 - This guidance sets out the steps local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for looked after children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children, unaccompanied migrant children or child victims of modern slavery including trafficking. Elements of this guidance will also be relevant for the care of looked after UK nationals who may also be child victims of modern slavery.

Safeguarding Children who May Have Been Trafficked (Home Office, 2011) - non-statutory government good practice guidance provides the detailed guidance on steps that local authorities should take, in partnership with other agencies, to identify and protect child victims of modern slavery, including trafficking, before they become looked after.

1.2 Issues and Challenges

The first contact with the child and carers is crucial to the engagement with the family and the promotion of trust which underpins the future support, advice and services.

Such children should be assessed as a matter of urgency as they may be very geographically mobile and their vulnerabilities may be greater. All agencies should enable the child to be quickly linked into universal services, which can begin to address educational and health needs.

The assessment has to address not only the barriers which arise from cultural, linguistic and religious differences, but also the particular sensitivities which come from the experiences of many such children and families.

Particular sensitivities which may be present include:

  • Concerns around immigration status;
  • Fear of repatriation;
  • Anxiety raised by yet another professional asking similar question to ones previously asked;
  • Lack of understanding of the separate role of Children's Social Care, and that it is not an extension of the police;
  • Lack of understanding of why an assessment needs to be carried out;
  • Previous experience of being asked questions under threat or torture, or seeing that happen to someone else;
  • Past trauma - past regime/experiences can impact upon the child's mental and physical health. This experience can make concerns from the Authorities about minor injury or poor living conditions seem trivial and this mismatch may add to the fear and uncertainty;
  • The journey itself as well as the previous living situation may have been the source of trauma;
  • The shock of arrival - the alien culture, system and language can cause shock and uncertainty, and can affect mood, behaviour and presentation;
  • The child may have also been subject to frequent changes of address or location within the UK and may be living with the fear of sudden further unexplained moves.

Agencies should ensure that the interpreter shares a common language with the child, is professionally trained and has been screened through a DBS check. It is vital that the services of an interpreter are employed in the child's first language and that care is taken to ensure that the interpreter knows the correct dialect.

1.2.1 Age Assessments

The assessment of age is a complex task, which often relies on professional judgement and discretion. Many societies do not place a high level of importance upon age and it may also be calculated in different ways. Some young people may genuinely not know their age and this can be misread as lack of co-operation. Levels of competence in some areas or tasks may exceed or fall short of our expectations of a child of the same age in this country.

Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority's assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery - Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (November 2017) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasonable grounds to believe that they are under 18, they will be treated as a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. An age assessment should only be carried out if it is appropriate to do so, and should not cause a delay in referring into the NRM. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be compliant with case law of Merton and subsequent judgments. 

ADCS Age Assessment Guidance provides good practice guidance to help frontline social workers conduct age assessments of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK. It contains practical advice on preparing for, and conducting, age assessments, as well as addressing related issues such as trafficking, trauma and memory, and legislation and case law.

It forms part of a suite of publications including:

The ADCS and Home Office Age Assessment Joint Working Guidance was updated in March 2023 to reflect the launch of the National Age Assessment Board, which began a phased rollout on 31 March 2023. The Board brings together a hub of specialist social workers, who will support local authorities and the Home Office to resolve age disputes by conducting age assessments. The Board will carry out full Merton-compliant age assessments upon referral from local authorities or on behalf of the Home Office, and will also use scientific methods to assess age once these are brought in.

The Board will set the national standard for age assessments, acting as a centralised team for local authorities and providing expert advice and training to improve the consistency and quality of how age assessments are carried out.

See also Age Assessment Process and Joint Working: Caseworker Guidance - immigration staff guidance on how the Home Office and local authorities in England assess age disputes from applicants claiming to be a child.

Please also Assessing Age for Asylum Applicants (GOV.UK) Guidance.

1.2.2 Immigration Issues

The immigration status of a child and their family has implications for the statutory responsibilities towards the family. It governs what help, if any, can be provided to the family and how help can be offered to the child.

All children, irrespective of their immigration status, are entitled to protection under the law. Local authorities need to ensure that child victims receive legal advice and support.

Where families are subject to immigration legislation which precludes support to the family, many will disappear into the community and wait until benefits can be awarded to them. During this interim period the children may suffer particular hardship - e.g. live in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions with no access to health or educational services. They are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because of their circumstances.

Children who disappear, where there are concerns about the child's welfare, should be considered to be missing and Missing Children and Families Procedure should be followed.

It may be appropriate for unaccompanied children to be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

Asylum Process – Possible Outcomes

There are four main possible outcomes of the asylum process for an unaccompanied child, which will determine what the long term solution might be. These are outlined below including the impact they may have on care and pathway planning:

  • Granted refugee status (i.e. granted asylum), with limited leave to remain for five years, after which time they can normally apply for settlement (i.e. indefinite leave to remain).
  • Refused asylum but granted humanitarian protection, with limited leave to remain for five years, after which time they can normally apply for settlement (i.e. indefinite leave to remain). This is most commonly granted where the person is at risk of a form of 'ill treatment' in their country of origin but which does not meet the criteria of the Refugee Convention.

    As it is very likely that those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection will qualify for indefinite leave to remain, their care and pathway planning should primarily focus on their long-term future in the UK, in the same way as for any other care leaver.
  • Refused asylum but granted Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child (UASC) Leave. This is normally for 30 months or until the age of 17½, whichever is the shorter period. This form of leave is granted to unaccompanied children where they do not qualify for refugee status or humanitarian protection, but where the Home Office cannot return them to their home country because it is not satisfied that safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place in that country. There must be no reasonable grounds for regarding the applicant as a danger to the community or security of the United Kingdom; they must not have been convicted by a final judgment of a particularly serious crime; and they must not, at the date of their application, be the subject of a deportation order or a decision to make a deportation order.

    It is a form of temporary leave to remain and is not a route to settlement. This decision is a refusal of the child's asylum claim and will attract a right of appeal. The child should be assisted to obtain legal advice on appealing against such a refusal. Before the child's UASC Leave expires, they can submit an application for further leave to remain and/or a fresh claim for asylum, which will be considered. It is essential that they are assisted to access legal advice and make any such further application or claim before their UASC Leave expires.

    In such cases, care and pathway planning should therefore consider the possibility that the child may have to return to their home country once their UASC Leave expires or that they may become legally resident in the UK long-term (if a subsequent application or appeal is successful). Planning should also cover the possibility that they reach the age of 18 with an outstanding application or appeal and are entitled to remain in the UK until its outcome is known.
  • Refused asylum and granted no leave to remain. In this case the unaccompanied child is expected to return to their home country and their care plan should address the relevant actions and the support required. The Home Office will not return an unaccompanied child to their home country unless it is satisfied that safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place in that country. Any appeal or further application should be submitted where appropriate by the child's legal adviser.

    Although these are the four main types of outcomes for an unaccompanied child, there may be others. For example, a child may be granted discretionary leave depending on whether they meet other criteria such as needing to stay in the UK to help police with their enquires after being conclusively identified as a victim of trafficking. Other examples include: leave as a stateless person; limited or discretionary leave for compassionate reasons; and limited leave on the basis of family or private life.

Independent Family Returns Panel

The Secretary of State must consult the Independent Family Returns Panel in each family returns case, on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family, and in each case where the Secretary of State proposes to detain a family in pre-departure accommodation, on the suitability of so doing, having particular regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family.

A family returns case is a case where a child who is living in the United Kingdom is to be removed from or required to leave the United Kingdom, together with their parent/carer. 

Pre-departure accommodation is a secure facility designed to be used as a last resort where families fail to co-operate with other options to leave the UK, such as the offer of assisted voluntary return.

The Panel may request information in order that any return plan for a particular family has taken into account any information held by other agencies that relates to safeguarding, welfare or child protection. In particular a social worker or manager from Children's Social Care may be invited to contribute to the Panel.

1.3 Protection and Action to be Taken

Whenever any professional comes across a child who they believe has recently moved into this country the following basic information should be sought:

  • Confirmation of the child's identity and immigration status;
  • Confirmation of the carer's relationship with the child and immigration status;
  • Confirmation of the child's health and education arrangements in this country;
  • Confirmation of the child's health and education arrangements in the country of origin and any other country that the child has travelled through.

This should be done in a way which is as unthreatening to the child and carer as possible.

When an unaccompanied child or child accompanied by someone who does not have Parental Responsibility comes to the attention of any practitioner, a referral should be made to Children's Social Care in accordance with the Making a Referral to Children's Social Care Procedure. An Assessment will be undertaken in order to determine whether they are a Child in Need of services, including the need for protection.

Whether they are unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent they should be assumed to be a Child in Need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case. The assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely. This, in itself, may be a complex process where the assessor may not be able to speak the same language as the child.

Many unaccompanied and/or trafficked children are at risk of going missing from care, often within the first 72 hours, whilst others may be at risk of repeated missing episodes due to ongoing exploitation.


The Assessment will be conducted in accordance with the Single Assessments - Assessments under Children Act 1989 Procedure. The following additional issues will also need to be taken into consideration.

Assessing the needs of these children is only possible if their legal status, background experiences and culture are understood, including the culture shock of arrival in this country.

This is a highly complex area of work and professionals will need to have available to them a solid understanding of the asylum process or colleagues or other professionals with such expertise.

Seeking information from abroad should be a routine part of assessing the situation of an unaccompanied child. Practitioners from all key agencies - Health, Education, Children's Social Care and the Police - should all be prepared to request information from their equivalent agencies in the country or countries in which a child has lived, in order to gain as full as possible a picture of the child's preceding circumstances.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

The Assessment should take account of any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them.

Unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery will need access to specialist legal advice and support. This will be in relation to immigration and asylum applications and decisions and any associated legal proceedings. If they have been a victim of modern slavery, it may also be in relation to criminal proceedings or compensation claims. The assessment should note that specialist legal support is required and how it will be provided.

Planning for the child should include planning for a variety of possible outcomes regarding the child’s immigration status - see Asylum Process – Possible Outcomes.

Part 2 - Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery

2.1 Definitions

‘Modern slavery’ is a form of organised crime in which individuals including children and young people are treated as commodities and exploited for criminal and financial gain. It encompasses human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced labour.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 provided better protection for victims and increased the sentences for committing these offences.

Grooming methods are often used to gain the trust of a child and their parents, e.g. the promise of a better life or education, which results in a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

'Trafficking of persons' means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

'Exploitation' for modern slavery purposes is defined, as a minimum, to include: sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and organ trafficking.

Trafficked victims are coerced or deceived by the person arranging their relocation, and are often subject to physical, sexual and mental abuse. The trafficked child or person is denied their human rights and is forced into exploitation by the trafficker or person into whose control they are delivered.

Children are not considered able to give 'informed consent' to their own exploitation (including criminal exploitation), so it is not necessary to consider the means used for the exploitation - whether they were forced, coerced or deceived, i.e. a child's consent to being trafficked is irrelevant and it is not necessary to prove coercion or any other inducement.

2.2 Types of Exploitation

Children of all ages are affected and can be trafficked into, within ('internal trafficking'), and out of the UK for many reasons and all forms of exploitation.

Victims may be sexually exploited and forced into sex work. Victims have been found in brothels, saunas and lap dancing clubs. Persons subject to forced labour have been found working with little or no pay in farms, factories, nail bars, car washes, hotels and restaurants.  Domestic servitude involves victims who work in a household where they are subject to long working hours with little or no pay, often in very poor working conditions. Sometimes forced marriage can lead to domestic servitude. Criminal exploitation can involve young people being forced to work in cannabis cultivation, county lines exploitation, begging and pick-pocketing. Other types of exploitation include debt bondage (being forced to work to pay off debts that realistically they will never be able to), organ harvesting, financial fraud (including benefit fraud), and illegal adoption. For further information see Typology of 17 Types of Modern Slavery Offences in the UK.

Victims often face more than one type of abuse and slavery, for example they may be sold to another trafficker and then forced into another form of exploitation.

Children and young people may be exploited by parents, carers or family members. Often the child or young person will not realise that family members are involved in the exploitation.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 (applicable mostly in England and Wales[1]) provides two civil prevention orders - the Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPO) and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order (STRO), and provision for child trafficking advocates.

See also Gang, Group Activity and Criminal Exploitation Affecting Children Procedure.

[1] Some provisions also concern Northern Ireland and Scotland. Also see the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015

2.3 Indicators

Identification of potential child victims of modern slavery/trafficking may be difficult as they might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked, while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked. Even when a child understands what has happened, they may still appear to submit willingly to what they believe to be the will of their parents or accompanying adults. It is important that these children are protected too. Children do not have the legal capacity to ‘consent’ to their trafficking or their exploitation.

Signs that a child has been trafficked may not be obvious, or children may show signs of multiple forms of abuse and neglect. Spotting the potential signs of child slavery/trafficking in referrals and children you work with can include:

  • A reluctance to seek help - victims may be wary of the authorities for many reasons such as not knowing who to trust or a fear of deportation or concern regarding their immigration status and may avoid giving details of accommodation or personal details;
  • The child may seem like a willing participant in their exploitation, e.g. involvement in lucrative criminal activity - however this does not mean they have benefitted from the proceeds;
  • Discrepancies in the information victims have provided due to traffickers forcing them to provide incorrect stories;
  • An unwillingness to disclose details of their experience due to being in a situation of dependency;
  • Brought or moved from another country;
  • An unrelated or new child discovered at an address;
  • Unsatisfactory living conditions - may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation;
  • Missing - from care, home or school - including  a pattern of registration and de-registration from different schools;
  • Children may be found in brothels and saunas;
  • Spending a lot of time doing household chores;
  • May be working in catering, nail bars, caring for children and cleaning;
  • Rarely leaving their home, with no freedom of movement and no time for playing;
  • Orphaned or living apart from their family, often in unregulated private foster care;
  • Limited English or knowledge of their local area in which they live;
  • False documentation, no passport or identification documents;
  • Few or no personal effects - few personal possessions and tend to wear the same clothing;
  • No evidence of parental permission for the child to travel to the UK or stay with the adult;
  • Little or no evidence of any pre-existing relationship with the adult or even an absence of any knowledge of the accompanying adult;
  • Significantly older partner;
  • Underage marriage.

Physical Appearance - Victims may show signs of physical or psychological abuse, look malnourished or unkempt, or appear withdrawn. 

Physical illnesses - Including work-related injuries through poor health and safety measures, or injuries apparently as a result of assault or controlling measures. There may be physical indications of working (e.g. overly tired in school or indications of manual labour).

Sexual health indicators - Sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy; injuries of a sexual nature and /or gynaecological symptoms.

Psychological indicators - Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder which may include symptoms of hostility, aggression and difficulty with recalling episodes and concentrating. Depression/self-harm and/or suicidal feelings; an attitude of self blame, shame and extensive loss of control; drug and or/alcohol use.

See also: Statutory Guidance Modern Slavery: How to Identify and Support Victims.

2.4 Protection and Action to be Taken

Modern slavery and trafficking are  child abuse, and any potential victim of child trafficking or slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour should immediately be referred to Children's Services in the area, as they may be suffering significant harm - see Making a Referral to Children's Social Care Procedure.

In addition to the usual actions to be taken, additional considerations will apply if the child is suspected of being a victim of trafficking and/or modern slavery. Once a potential victim has been identified, practitioners should inform them of their right to protection, support, and assistance in any criminal proceedings against offenders. Practitioners should arrange access to specialist legal advice and support. Trafficked children may apply to UK Visas and Immigration for asylum or humanitarian protection. This is because they often face a high level of risk of harm if they are forced to return to their country of origin.

If the child or anyone connected to them is in immediate danger the police should be contacted as normal.

Practitioners should meet any urgent health needs and arrange emergency medical treatment if appropriate.

Practitioners must arrange safe accommodation for the potential victim.


Where a child is a victim or potential victim of Modern Slavery/Trafficking, the Assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 72 hours. There should be a clear understanding between the local authority and the police of roles in planning for the protection and responding if a child goes missing.

During the Assessment, the lead social worker should establish the child's background history including a new or recent photograph, passport and visa details, Home Office papers and proof and details of the guardian or carer.

Where the outcome of the assessment is that the child becomes looked after, the social worker and carers must consider the child's vulnerability to the continuing influence/control of the traffickers and how they may seek to contact them for instance by mobile phone or the internet. Planning and actions to support the child must minimise the risk of the traffickers being able to re-involve a child in exploitative activities:

  • The location of the child must not be divulged to any enquirers until they have been interviewed by a social worker and their identity and relationship/connection with the child established, with the help of police and immigration services, if required;
  • Foster carers/residential workers must be vigilant about anything unusual e.g. waiting cars outside the premises and telephone enquiries.

The social worker must immediately pass to the police any information on the child (concerning risks to their safety or any other aspect of the law pertaining either to child protection or immigration or other matters) which emerges during the placement. The social worker must try to make contact with the child's parents in the country of origin (immigration services may be able to help), to find out the plans they have made for their child and to seek their views. The social worker must take steps to verify the relationship between the child and those thought to be their parent/s.

Anyone approaching the local authority and claiming to be a potential carer, friend, member of the family etc, of the child, should be investigated by the social worker, the police and immigration service. If the supervising manager is satisfied that all agencies have completed satisfactory identification checks and risk assessments, the child may transfer to their care.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

The Assessment should take account of any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them.

Practitioners must always ensure that a victim-centred approach to tackling all types of trafficking and modern slavery is taken. This can be achieved by the following:

  • Dealing with the child sensitively to avoid them being alarmed or shamed - building trust, as victims commonly feel fear towards the authorities;
  • Keeping in mind the child's:
    • Added vulnerability;
    • Developmental stage;
    • Possible grooming by the perpetrator.

A child's credibility can be challenged if the child is subject to immigration control on the basis of their disclosure being made in instalments. It is important that practitioners make careful notes about what is disclosed, as a child may have difficulty recalling what they’ve experienced as a result of trauma. This will support the child and help others understand the process of disclosure.

When questioning a potential victim, initially observe non verbal communication and body language between the victim and their perpetrator.

It is important to consider the potential victim's safety and that of their loved ones. Confidentiality and careful handling of personal information is imperative to ensure the child's safety. Practitioners must not disclose to anyone not directly involved in the case, any details that may compromise their safety.

2.5 Referring a Potential Victim of Modern Slavery to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the UK's framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery.

A local authority (as a 'first responder') identifying a potential victim of modern slavery must refer them to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for consideration by the Single Competent Authority (SCA) in the Home Office.

Children's Social Care departments are able to make a referral into the NRM, as they may be entitled to further support. Victims can be of any nationality, and may include British national children, such as those trafficked for child sexual exploitation or those trafficked as drug carriers internally in the UK. The NRM does not supersede child protection procedures, so existing safeguarding processes should still be followed in tandem with the notifications to the NRM. See also: GOV.UK, Report Modern Slavery as a First Responder.

There is no minimum requirement for justifying a referral into the NRM and consent is not required for children. Communicate honestly with the child about your concerns and reasons for referring them into the NRM.

To complete and see where to send the forms, and the associated guidance, visit Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery.

The Duty to Notify - Local authorities have a duty to notify the Home Office about any potential victims of Modern Slavery. It is intended to gather better data about modern slavery. This requirement can be satisfied by completing the National Referral Mechanism Digital Form.

NOTE: In June 2021, the Government launched a 12-month pilot programme in some local authority areas that will test alternative models of decision making for child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. See GOV.UK Guidance: Piloting Devolving Decision Making for Child Victims of Modern Slavery.

If the child is in an Independent Child Trafficking Guardian (ICTG) area, a referral must also be made to the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian service (see Section 2.6, Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG))

The NRM referral and ICTG referral should be made in parallel.

2.6 Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG)

In areas where the ICTG service has been implemented, if the first responder considers a child to be a potential victim of modern slavery, they should refer them to the ICTG service by completing the online Independent Child Trafficked Guardians Referral Form. This is in addition to following usual safeguarding routes and NRM referrals.

Referrals must be made through the online referral form. A 24/7 assessment line number for the ICTG Service (0800 043 4303) is available for advice on referring a child into the service.

Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs) are an independent source of advice for trafficked children; somebody who can speak up on their behalf and act in the best interests of the child. This service was formerly known as Independent Child Trafficking Advocates. The Government has committed to rolling out ICTGs across England and Wales.

An ICTG's advocacy and involvement throughout the decision-making process is intended to ensure the child is protected from further harm, prevent possible repeat victimisation, re-trafficking or going missing and promote the child's recovery. ICTGs are independent of those authorities who are responsible for making decisions about the child.

See also: Interim Guidance for Independent Child Trafficking Guardians.

The ICTG service model provides two discrete services to children who have been trafficked:

  • ICTG Direct Workers - support children for whom there is no one with parental responsibility for them in the UK;
  • ICTG Regional Practice Co-ordinators - whose role is to focus on children who do have a figure with parental responsibility for them in the UK.

ICTG Direct Workers provide one-to-one support to a child who has been trafficked and help them navigate, as appropriate, the respective local authority children's services and the immigration and criminal justice systems, as well as ensuring that their educational and health needs are met through liaison with the appropriate statutory agencies and public authorities.

ICTG Regional Practice Co-Ordinators hold a strategic role, working with professionals who are already engaged with and supporting the child, rather than directly working with the child. The ICTG RPC has in-depth and specialist knowledge of provisions in their local area and is able to offer expert advice to professionals working directly with children on how best to safeguard the children in their care.

The ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator must be invited and provided with the opportunity to take part in all meetings and discussions which relate to and impact upon the child, including individual agency meetings such as those with the local authority, police, immigration authorities and those which may take place within the criminal justice system as well as multi-agency meetings and strategy discussions. The ICTG Service must also be informed of all decisions relating to the child.

The public authorities in the ICTG Sites must provide the ICTG Service with access to all relevant information, subject to any restrictions on the disclosure of the information, relating to the child to enable the ICTG Service to perform their role effectively in line with safeguarding responsibilities.

Likewise, the ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator must share relevant information they have obtained from their meetings with the child with the public authorities to enable them to continue to perform their role in the child's support and care, effectively.

The ICTG Service should receive information from public authorities in a timely fashion a minimum of 2 working days before a meeting where practical. This paperwork could include an agenda as well as any background or more recent papers on the child that will inform or be discussed at the meeting. This will enable the ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator to be fully prepared when attending meetings with professionals and subsequently with the child. This will also enable ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator to carry out their role and duties to the child in an effective and productive manner, allowing them to increase their knowledge and understanding of the child in order to develop appropriate strategies or options to continue to support them.

Where the child's ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator is not available to attend certain multi-agency meetings between public authorities or those involving individual agencies which relate to and impact upon the child, they should, where possible, arrange and brief an alternative ICTG Direct Worker or ICTG Regional Practice Coordinator to represent them at the meeting or provide key thoughts and opinions to the chair of the meeting or to key professionals who will be in attendance to ensure their views are reflected. The ICTG Service's assessment line staff are also able to remotely dial in on these occasions, therefore conference calling facilities should be made available where necessary. The ICTG Service should receive key notes and actions as well as any decisions reached during the meeting in a timely fashion or within a maximum of 2 working days.

Where the ICTG Service considers that it is necessary and appropriate to do so, they may obtain legal advice or instruct a legal representative to act on the child's behalf. This advice or representation may relate to the support and care needs of the child, any immigration or criminal proceedings the child is involved in, or circumstances which may be considered to have a detrimental impact on the child.

Further Information

Legislation, Statutory and Government Non-Statutory, Guidance

Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, November 2017

Statutory guidance for local authorities and those making multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. This guidance sets out the steps local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for looked after children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children, unaccompanied migrant children or child victims of modern slavery including trafficking.

National Transfer Scheme Protocol for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children

National transfer procedure on transferring unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) to local authorities.

Guidance on Processing Children's Asylum Claims

Sets out the process which immigration officials follow in determining an asylum claim from a child and the possible outcomes for the child. (Updated December 2020).

Unaccompanied Asylum-seeking Children and Leaving Care: Funding Instructions

Instructions to local authorities about funding for the support and care of former and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. (Updated December 2021)

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Home Office Circular - Modern Slavery Act 2015

This circular provides details on the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Modern Slavery, GOV.UK

Brings together documents and promotional material related to the government’s work to end modern slavery.

Statutory Guidance Modern Slavery: How to Identify and Support Victims (updated 2022)

Describes the signs that someone may be a victim of modern slavery, the support available to victims and the process for determining whether someone is a victim.

Modern Slavery Victims: Referral

Guidance on referring potential victims of modern slavery/human trafficking to the National Referral Mechanism.

Safeguarding Children who May Have Been Trafficked (DfE and Home Office, 2011)

Non-statutory government good practice guidance.

Cross-border child protection cases: the 1996 Hague Convention (DfE)

Non-statutory guidance for local authorities dealing with international child protection cases. Updated January 2021.

Council Guide to Tackling Modern Slavery (Local Government Association)

Pilots devolving decision-making for child victims of modern slavery

Piloting devolving decision-making for child victims of modern slavery – Guidance (2021)

The Pilot Programme forms part of a wider Transformation Programme of activity to identify sustainable longer-term options for the NRM. The purpose of the Pilot Programme is to test whether determining if a child is a victim of modern slavery within existing safeguarding structures is a more appropriate model for making modern slavery decisions for children.

Pilots are in the London Boroughs of: Barking and Dagenham; Islington; Camden; Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster.

Hull City; North and North-East Lincolnshire; North Yorkshire County Council and the City of York; Solihull Council; Glasgow City Council; Cardiff Council; Newport City Council and Torfaen, Blaenau Gwent, Monmouth and Caerphilly.

Interim Guidance for Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs)

Guiding principles and general considerations those involved (ICTG Direct Workers and Regional Practice Co-ordinators) in supporting children who have been trafficked in respect of Sect 48 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 which is scheduled to be enacted. The ICTG service has been implemented in Greater London; Surrey; Essex; West Yorkshire; Merseyside; Kent; Warwickshire; North Yorkshire; Gloucestershire and Bristol; Lancashire and Bedfordshire.

Good Practice Guidance

College of Policing - Modern Slavery

Details comprehensively practice and processes regarding the police role and investigation. Includes definitions of terminology and offences.

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) Guidance: Child Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking (RCPCH)

Useful Websites

Local Government Association - Council Support: Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children

Resource for council staff, designed to answer questions about supporting refugees, asylum seekers and unaccompanied children. Includes those seeking refuge and arriving from Ukraine. (Updated February 2022)

BMA, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Resource

This guidance is for doctors who may be uncertain about the specific health needs and entitlement to different types of care of patients who are refugees and asylum seekers. It may also be helpful to other healthcare professionals and staff.

Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Centre (MSHTU) (National Crime Agency)

General information about Trafficking and the role of the National Crime Agency.

NSPCC, Protecting children from trafficking and modern slavery (2021)

Broad-ranging advise and information on trafficking including recognition. (Updated in June 2021)

Modern Slavery - Royal College of Nursing Guide for Nurses and Midwives

Refugee and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and Young People - Guidance for Paediatricians (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health)

Information aiming to support paediatricians in the assessment and management of children and young people of refugee background, with links to key external information and resources.

It was developed in partnership with the Child Protection Standing Committee and the Advocacy Committee. (February 2022).

Refugee Council - Children's Advice Project

National remit to offer advice and support to unaccompanied children, and advise other professionals who are involved in their care.

ECPAT - Every Child Protected Against Trafficking

A children's rights organisation working to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation.

Information for Children/Carers

Support for Victims of Modern Slavery (Home Office 2016)

A leaflet outlining the support available for victims of modern slavery in 11 foreign languages.

Modern Slavery Helpline and Resource Centre - Unseen (Registered Charity)

Is a children's rights organisation working to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation.

Support and advice 24 hrs a day with communication in a number of languages. Available to victims, the public, statutory agencies, etc.