Review highlights best practice in supporting child slavery victims

Derren Hayes
Thursday, August 13, 2020

A review of practices and procedures for protecting child victims of modern slavery has set out a series of recommendations for developing effective multi-agency decision-making processes.

There were 4,550 children referred into the NRM in 2019. Picture: Morguefile
There were 4,550 children referred into the NRM in 2019. Picture: Morguefile

The review by the independent anti-slavery commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has been produced in partnership with ECPAT UK.

It examined four of the most commonly-used multi-agency decision making frameworks to help inform future thinking on potential pilots for devolved National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision making for child victims of trafficking.

The NRM is the UK’s framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. It was introduced in 2009. Children referred to it receive safeguarding support under local safeguarding arrangements, although there have been previous concerns that the process is bureaucratic and needs speeding up.

The Home Office is considering a pilot to test approaches to devolve NRM decision making for children to local authorities and local safeguarding partnerships.

The review sets out recommendations for the government and local safeguarding partners on the key features of a local NRM system, including:  

  • a model that is intrinsically linked to local safeguarding structures;

  • sufficient funding for local safeguarding partnerships to meet the demands of contextual safeguarding interventions for children and young people who have been trafficked and exploited within their overall safeguarding duties as well as funding for any additional resource required to make NRM decisions locally;

  • all decisions to be made to attain the best interests of the child, also facilitating the voice of the child by ensuring that the wishes and feelings of children are understood and are taken into account.

The review authors highlight that increasing referrals to the NRM – there were 4,550 children referred into the NRM in 2019, representing over 43 per cent of all referrals – have raised concerns about the quality of the NRM decisions.

Other concerns include the timeliness of decisions and the impact of this delay on safeguarding actions; a disconnect between the NRM and local safeguarding processes; continued examples of agencies working in silo and gaps in knowledge among professionals about the NRM and what it means for children.

Dame Sara said: “This timely review provides practical insights to influence potential pilots on devolved NRM decision-making for child trafficking victims.

"We have seen a dramatic rise of children identified as victims of modern slavery and trafficking over recent years, with 4,550 child potential victims referred into the NRM in 2019.

"I am deeply concerned that the current system is not working and that we are not providing the wrap-around care that young people desperately need. We need to look at this urgently to ensure we are supporting these children to a safer future, and preventing further harm and re-exploitation.”

Patricia Durr, chief executive Officer of ECPAT UK, added: “We have consistently raised concerns about how the NRM works for child victims of trafficking. Our biggest concern is to ensure an integrated approach to children's rights and needs for protection so that children who have been trafficked are provided with specialist care to help them overcome the trauma of exploitation and prevent re-trafficking and other forms of abuse.

“Children's best interests must be at the heart of any decision making and without an approach that is truly joined up with local child safeguarding structures and processes, it is hard to see how this can be achieved. Working together we can all do better to improve decision making, increase understanding and improve practice so that we keep our focus on supporting and protecting children and young people - which is our collective goal, after all.”



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