ECPAT UK welcomes the Government’s recent announcements to reform the identification and protection system for victims of trafficking, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). However, we believe that these reforms do not go far enough to protect child victims of trafficking and provide them with the specialist care they need.

Last week the Home Office announced a series of reforms to the NRM. These measures include:

  • Creating a single unit in the Home Office to handle all cases referred from frontline staff and to make decisions about whether somebody is a victim of modern slavery, replacing the current case management units in the National Crime Agency and UK Visas and Immigration;
  • Creating an independent panel of experts to review some negative decisions (at the ‘conclusive grounds’ stage only);
  • Creating a new digital system to support the NRM process;
  • Continuation of the rollout of Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs).

ECPAT UK is encouraged by the creation of an independent panel of experts to review some negative decisions, as well as the establishment of a new decision-making body that is separate from the immigration system.

We are also pleased to see that the Government will continue to rollout the specialist child advocates scheme after making a commitment in the 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

However, ECPAT UK is concerned that the new proposals do not go far enough to address the specific needs of child victims of trafficking and that the rollout of advocates is not happening quickly enough – they currently only operate in three areas (Wales, Hampshire and Greater Manchester).

In particular, we would like to have seen independent panels of experts created to review negative decisions at all stages of the NRM process, as we have seen evidence of poor negative decisions being made throughout the process.

More broadly, we believe that care for child victims of trafficking should be embedded within existing child protection systems, based at a local level with trained multi-agency child protection actors. Additionally, identification as a child victim should be linked to specialist support and not just be a paper exercise. 

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns at ECPAT UK, said: “Whilst these reforms are a positive step in the right direction, the UK Government must do more to ensure that child victims of trafficking are properly identified and supported under existing child protection structures. How can it be right that civil servants in the Home Office are tasked with making decisions about whether children across the country are victims of trafficking? It is well-established that best practice in child protection issues always involves multi-agency working.

“Children who have been trafficked need intensive levels of specialist support in order to recover and rebuild their lives. Sadly, these reforms do not address the fact that local authorities need more resources to provide this level of support, without which, we believe children are left at risk of re-trafficking.”

ECPAT UK continues to campaign for these changes. Our petition demanding the home secretary, Amber Rudd, reforms the NRM now has nearly 70,000 supporters.