Trafficking, modern slavery and the NRM

Recent changes to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) will have an effect on child victims of trafficking and those who support them.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the system created by the UK to identify and support victims of trafficking, including child victims of trafficking. There have been a number of issues in the past with the NRM, in particular with delays in decision making, the quality of decision making and whether it provides appropriate long-term support for victims. Following a review, there were a number of recommendations made to overhaul the NRM. Some, not all, of these changes have been made.

Victims are trafficked for a variety of reasons, including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, criminal activities and organ harvesting. They may have been trafficked from another country to the UK, or within the UK. More than 3,000 children were identified as potential victims in 2018, although the real number is likely higher. The child victim may be a British citizen, EU citizen or non-EU child. In the last two years, British citizen children have been the most commonly identified nationality of trafficking victims.

As well as having an impact on a child's safety and protection, decisions through the NRM can have an impact on a child's immigration status, support, asylum claim and rights to compensation. Children who have immigration or asylum issues will need legal advice on these matters. If they are going through the criminal justice system, they should also have access to a criminal lawyer.

Duty to notify

Supporting child trafficking victims can be difficult and you should be aware they are at a high risk of going missing from care and being subject to re-trafficking and further exploitation. There is a high need for safe and appropriate accommodation and safeguarding is a priority.

Specific public authorities have a duty to notify, through the NRM, if they encounter someone who they think may be a victim of trafficking. This includes local authorities, so frontline staff should ensure that they are aware of potential identifiers of trafficking and understand the processes involved.

Some identifiers of trafficking are:

  • Signs of malnourishment
  • Unexplained phone calls while in a placement
  • Unaccounted for money or possessions
  • Signs of physical or sexual abuse
  • Going missing from local authority care
  • Fear of authority figures
  • A prepared story, possibly very similar to that of other children
  • A history with missing links and unexplained moves
  • Showing fear for their family in the country of origin
  • Lack of knowledge of where they are

One recent change made to the NRM is in respect of who makes decisions on NRM referrals. Previously it would depend on whether the potential victim of trafficking was a UK/EU national or a non-EU national (see feature, right, for more on EEA and EU terminology). There is now a "Single Competent Authority" (SCA) - all referrals to the NRM from first responders will be sent to the SCA. The SCA is within the Home Office.

Independent Child Trafficking Guardians

One of the more significant changes for child victims was the piloting of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates - now called Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs) - in certain areas in England and Wales. ICTGs are specialist professionals who support children who have been identified as trafficked or potentially trafficked to navigate the complex systems of social care, immigration and criminal justice. Following a second pilot, there has now been a further rollout of ICTGs - now in all local authorities in Wales, Greater Manchester, Hampshire/Isle of Wight, West Midlands, East Midlands and Croydon. All children identified in those areas must be referred to the ICTG service.

If you are working with children it is important that you understand what trafficking is, potential identifiers and the processes involved in ensuring children are identified, supported and protected.

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