Freedom of Information data obtained from the Home Office reveals that in 2022, 70% of children turning 18 either withdrew from the National Referral Mechanism or their cases were suspended. These figures expose critical gaps in the support system for child victims of trafficking and modern slavery as they reach the age of 18. 

A new briefing from the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), highlights that despite eligibility for support through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC), many young people encounter significant barriers accessing vital assistance during this critical transitional period.

Key findings from the briefing, based on newly obtained data from a Freedom of Information request submitted by ATMG member Snowdrop Project, reveal alarming statistics:

  • In 2022, 70% of children turning 18 either withdrew from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) or had their cases suspended, rendering them ineligible for essential support.
  • Only 13% of children transitioning to adulthood in the NRM were referred for MSVCC support, with a mere 6% receiving any form of assistance.
  • A lack of publicly available data on the outcomes for children turning 18 in the NRM exacerbates the opacity surrounding their care status and support access.

Children do not need to provide consent to be referred to the NRM as potential child victims of trafficking, but once they turn 18, the Home Office requires them to give consent to remain in the procedure. The process of obtaining informed consent from young victims of trafficking within the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) presents significant challenges. While the Modern Slavery Statutory Guidance mandates support for child victims through local authorities, there's a notable absence of clear policies or guidelines beyond statutory obligations for all children in need which address the specific needs of child victims. Consequently, many children lack the necessary assistance to understand the NRM process, with inconsistencies in informing them about their options upon turning 18. Moreover, the lack of transparency in procedures exacerbates the difficulty in making informed decisions, leaving vulnerable young people at risk.

Even when children have consented to remain in the NRM upon reaching adulthood, they still face challenges while trying to access support. Data reveals a stark reality: only a fraction of children receive support under the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC). For those not under the care of local authorities, accessing essential support becomes precarious, emphasising the need for comprehensive statutory guidance to address the unique needs of trafficked children transitioning to adulthood. Even for children in care who have been trafficked, inconsistencies in support services and the lack of specialist support perpetuate the risk of re-trafficking and exploitation.

The Home Office’s decision to discontinue pilot services like the Independent Child Trafficking Guardianship (ICTG) for young people as they turn 18, coupled with the absence of clear guidance on their specific needs, underscores the systemic failures in protecting trafficked children as they transition into adulthood. 

The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group urges the government to review the consent process for children in the NRM, clarify the suspension and withdrawal process, and publish quarterly data on children in the NRM’s care status. Additionally,  it should develop comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities which includes all child victims, reinstate and expand support through Independent Child Trafficking Guardians and provide funding for named social workers in all local authorities. Failure to provide adequate support not only violates the rights of trafficked children but also perpetuates their vulnerability to exploitation, highlighting the urgent need for systemic reforms to protect these vulnerable individuals.

Rachel Medina, CEO of Snowdrop Project, said: "Worryingly, hundreds of children are falling through gaps in the systems that are meant to protect and support victims of modern slavery. The government must take responsibility to ensure that no child's right to support is overlooked."

Eleonora Fais, Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group Coordinator, said: “Every child deserves to enjoy their childhood free from exploitation and abuse, but we know that child trafficking and modern slavery impact thousands of children across the UK. Alarming new data shows that the current support system isn’t sufficiently structured to support children in the National Referral Mechanism, especially at the point of turning 18, leaving children without specialist support and potentially vulnerable to re-exploitation. Children must be able to access ongoing specialist support as they transition to adulthood. This data is a wake-up call, we urgently need to improve our services, so that children can receive the support they need. 

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: " As a charity  dedicated to promoting the rights of children, we are deeply troubled by the alarming data revealed through this briefing. The findings underscore the urgent need for systematic reforms to ensure that young victims of trafficking are not left vulnerable and unsupported as they transition into adulthood. Every child deserves the opportunity to make informed choices about their future and access the vital care and protection they need to rebuild their lives.”


Notes to Editors

  1. In 2022, 2,634 children turned 18 while awaiting an NRM decision. 70% (1,871) of these children withdrew from the NRM or had their cases suspended. 50% (1,332) were suspended due to neither consenting to remain nor withdrawing from it, and 20% (539) actively withdrew from the NRM.
  2. Of the 772 children who actively consented to remain in the NRM, only 43% (335) were referred for Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract support, and only 20% (151) received any support at all.
  3. The Home Office has not publicly announced the discontinuation of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian (ICTG) pilots testing the post 18 recommendation of the Independent Review for the Modern Slavery Act, confirmation was received via email to ATMG member ECPAT UK.
  4. The briefing can be found at Breaking Barriers: Supporting young victims of human trafficking transitioning to adulthood. 

Contact: Rachel Dale, Training, Policy & Research Lead, Snowdrop Project, [email protected]  0333 880 5008 or Jessica Turner, Communications Manager, Anti-Slavery International, [email protected], +44 (0)7789 936 383 or Laura Durán, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research, ECPAT UK, [email protected],  +44 (0) 7402 113 985

About the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG)

The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) is a coalition established in 2009 to monitor the UK’s implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT). The ATMG operates according to a human rights-based approach to protect the well-being and best interests of survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery. It comprises seventeen leading UK-based anti-trafficking organisations.