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Numbers of referrals involving trafficking increases

Referrals to the UK's National Referral Mechanism, the UK's system for identifying victims of trafficking, are increasing, a review has found.

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT), a leading charity in the field working to protect children from trafficking, abuse and exploitation, and The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton launched a review examining what works in existing multi-agency decision making frameworks to help inform future thinking on potential pilots for devolved decision making for child victims of trafficking within the UK's NRM.

It found that 4,550 children were referred into the NRM in 2019, representing over 43% of all referrals.

Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “This timely review provides practical insights to influence potential pilots on devolved National Referral Mechanism 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.”

While the increase in referrals may indicate increased awareness of the NRM among professionals coming into contact with children, the increase in referrals has highlighted fractures within the current system including, the review found. This includes:

- Concerns about the quality of NRM decisions

- 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 silos and gaps in knowledge among professionals about the NRM and what it means for children.

The review identifies existing models currently used in multi-agency decision making frameworks for safeguarding adults and children. Recommendations for UK government and local safeguarding partners in line with potential plans to pilot devolved NRM decision making call for a devolved NRM decision making model that is intrinsically linked to local safeguarding structures. There also needs to be 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.

Furthermore, all decisions made should have the best interests of the child at its heart, facilitating the voice of the child by ensuring that children's wishes and feelings are understood and are taken into account.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “ECPAT UK has consistently raised concerns about how the National Referral Mechanism 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. We are so pleased that the Commissioner is committed to this goal too and to have had the opportunity to work collaboratively on this review.

“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,” she concluded.

A review of what works in multi-agency decision making and the implications for child victims of trafficking

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