The statutory guidance in Section 4, Protection and Action to be Taken was updated in August 2018 to link to the Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE 2017). The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is referenced in relation to age assessments.
'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' includes, at a minimum, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Trafficked victims are coerced or deceived by the person arranging their relocation. On arrival in the country of destination 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 and young people are usually recruited by coercive or subversive means, taken on dangerous journeys with false papers and ID and, at their destination, they are kept in a controlled environment by means of threats or violence. Some children may be escorted by a person stating that they are a relative. Most children are trafficked for financial gain such as domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, benefit fraud, sweat-shop work in catering or agriculture, illegal adoption and many more.
The child at the point of entry:
- Entered illegally without passport or ID papers;
- Has false papers, goods and money not accounted for;
- Has no adult with them or to meet them;
- Is with an adult who refuses to leave them alone;
- Has no money but a working mobile phone;
- Is reluctant to give personal details.
Once in the UK the child:
- Receives unexplained calls;
- Has money from an unknown source;
- Shows signs of sexual or physical abuse;
- Has not been enrolled in a school or with a GP;
- Seems to do work in various locations.
The child's sponsor:
- Has previously made multiple visa applications for other children or acted as guarantor; or
- Is known to have acted as guarantor for others who have not returned to their countries of origin at the expiry of the visas.
Identification of trafficked children 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. Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim in line with the Palermo Protocol, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent. 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.
4. Protection and Action to be Taken
If there is a risk to the life of the child or a likelihood of serious immediate significant harm, Police or Children's Social Care should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of a child who may have been trafficked. In some cases it may be necessary to ensure either that the child remains in a safe place or is removed to a safe place. This could be on a voluntary basis, or following the making of an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).
Referral and the Child Protection Process
Following a referral in line with the Referrals Procedure an Assessment will be carried out by the lead social worker and a Strategy Discussion will take place. It may decide that a Section 47 Enquiry should be carried out which could result in an Initial Child Protection Conference (see Child Protection Conferences Procedure).
If the decision is that the risks do not require a child protection plan, then the child should be responded to as a child in need.
Where a child has been trafficked, 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 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any Assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately.
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.
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.
Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (DfE 2017) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 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. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton Compliant.
With advice from their lawyers, 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.
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. 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 her/his 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 her/his 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.
In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.
National Referral Mechanism
In cases where a child displays indicators that they may have been trafficked, whether from overseas or within the UK, social workers or other front line professionals should refer the case to the relevant competent authority by submitting a National Referral Mechanism referral form.
Everyone involved in the care of unaccompanied and trafficked children should be trained to recognise and understand the particular issues likely to be faced by these children.
Children need to be interviewed separately and over time to build up trust and trained Disclosure and Barring Service-checked interpreters should be used. Independent legal advice should be arranged and discreet family tracing and contact, if it is safe, should be followed up.
Medical and counselling services should be arranged.
A risk assessment of the dangers to the child should be made if the child is to be repatriated.
Attempting to persuade a child victim to testify against a trafficker is complicated. The child usually fears reprisal from the traffickers and/or the adults whom the child was living with in the UK if they co-operate with the police. This includes reprisals against their family in their home country. Children, who might agree to testify, fear that they will be discredited because they were coerced into lying on their visa applications/immigration papers.