Wednesday, 22ndMay 2024 

The government has published the evaluation of a scheme piloting local decision making on children’s status as victims of trafficking. ECPAT UK welcomes the findings and urges a commitment to full roll out. 

Following our joint report with the Office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner on what works in existing multi-agency decision making frameworksthe Home Office launched a pilot to transfer National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision making from central government to the local level by safeguarding partners. The pilot launched in June 2021 initially included 10 sites and was further expanded to ten additional sites in April 2023. The evaluation covers the first year of the pilot, from June 2021 until June 2022 and its publication has been much-delayed. 

Despite the lack of focus on the impact of this pilot on the outcomes for child victims, the report findings still showcase the benefits of devolved decision making particularly to ensure timely decisions, improved multi-agency working and increased awareness at the local level of the NRM process  

ECPAT UK remains critical of the current limitations set out by the Home Office in their general guidance for pilot sites. The current exclusion of children who are 100 days from their 18th birthday, age disputed young people and children who are being considered for a Public Order Disqualification means that they will not have their cases considered by local safeguarding partners. This policy approach risks excluding some of the most vulnerable young people identified as potential victims particularly those considered for disqualification as a result of previous custodial sentences likely linked to their history of abuse and exploitation.  

We also continue to call for the government to commit to a full roll out of these pilots to ensure all decisions about child victims are carried out by local, multi-agency safeguarding professionals in each child’s best interests so that their views and wishes are understood and considered. Currently the post code lottery of decision-making risks leaving children in non-pilot sites outside of the benefits of speedy decisions and improved multiagency safeguarding.  

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: 

“We welcome the launch of this evaluation and are pleased to see the benefits of this pilot which included consideration of the recommendations from ourjoint report with Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. 

The government must ensure any further evaluation focuses on impact to children themselves and is published publicly in a timely manner. We urge the Home Office to reconsider their approach to children approaching adulthood, those who are age disputed and those considered for disqualification urgently. Devolved decision making by local safeguarding partners is the right response to concerns about child trafficking, which is a child protection matter and should always be treated as such. 


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