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5.14 Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked


This chapter is based on the document "Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked" (Department for Children, Schools and Families 2007) which has now been updated (see below).

The guidance provides helpful information on the background to trafficking, the reasons why and what makes it possible. Appendix 2 of the guidance contains a table of the actions which should be considered by practitioners and managers in key agencies.


DfE, Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (2017)

Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked, non-statutory good practice guidance

ECPAT - UK Briefing Paper on Child Trafficking - Begging and Organised Crime (2010)

Safeguarding Trafficked Roma Children and Families, (published by the London Safeguarding Children Board, 2010)

Home Office Circular, Modern Slavery Act 2015 (July 2015)

GOV.UK, Modern slavery victims: referral and assessment forms 


In December 2017, Section 2, Definitions the statutory guidance was updated to link to the DfE 2017 Care of unaccompanied and migrant children and child victims of modern slavery – statutory guidance for local authorities. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is referenced in relation to age assessments.


  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Important Information about Trafficking
  4. Managing Individual Situations
  5. What Trafficked Children Need
  6. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin
  7. Private Fostering
  8. Trafficked Children who are Looked After
  9. Trafficked Children who are Missing
  10. Inter-country Adoption 
  11. Support Services and Useful Contacts

1. Introduction

1.1 Standard child protection processes apply in respect of children and young people who may have been trafficked. This chapter focuses on issues which are additional to the child protection procedures set out elsewhere in this manual.
1.2 The organised crime of child trafficking into the UK has become an issue of considerable concern to all professionals with responsibility for the care and protection of children. Any form of trafficking children is an abuse. Children are coerced, deceived or forced into the control of others who seek to profit from their exploitation and suffering.
1.3 It is important to note that some cases involve UK-born children being trafficked within the UK, e.g. a child or young person being trafficked from one town to another. This guidance applies where such circumstances are suspected.

It is essential that professionals working across social care, education, health, immigration and law enforcement develop an awareness of this activity and an ability to identify trafficked children.

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.
1.5 This chapter provides information about trafficking, the roles and functions of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children who it is suspected have been trafficked.

2. Definitions


The definition of trafficking contained in the 'Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children' (ratified by the UK in 2006) is as follows:

"Trafficking of persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of person, by means of the threat of or use of:

  • Force or other forms of coercion;
  • Abduction;
  • Fraud;
  • Deception;
  • The abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability; or
  • 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 shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

The consent of the victim of trafficking is irrelevant where any of the above methods have been used.
2.2 A child is defined according to the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 as anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday.

Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children in this situation 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 also.

DfE, Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (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 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.

3. Important Information about Trafficking

3.1 Most children are trafficked for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child's parents. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK. Trafficking is carried out by organised gangs and individual adults or agents.

Trafficked children may be used for:

  • Sexual exploitation;
  • Domestic servitude;
  • Sweatshop, restaurant and other catering work;
  • Credit card fraud;
  • Begging or pick pocketing or other forms of petty criminal activity;
  • Agricultural labour, including tending plants in illegal cannabis farms;
  • Benefit fraud;
  • Drug mules, drug dealing or decoys for adult drug traffickers;
  • Illegal inter-country adoptions.
3.3 Children may be trafficked from a number of different countries for a variety of different reasons. Factors which can make children vulnerable to trafficking are varied and include such things as poverty, lack of education, discrimination and disadvantage, political conflict and economic transition, inadequate local laws and regulations. It is also true that whilst there is a demand for children within the UK, trafficking will continue to be a problem.
3.4 In order to recruit children, a variety of coercive methods are used such as abduction or kidnapping as well as more subversive ways such as the promise of education, respectable employment or a better life.
3.5  Many children travel to the UK on false documents. The creation of a false identity for a child can give a trafficker direct control over every aspect of the child's life. Even before they travel to the UK, children may be subject to various forms of abuse and exploitation to ensure that the trafficker's control over the child continues after the child is transferred to someone else's care.
3.6  Any port of entry into the UK may be used by traffickers via air, rail and sea and as checks on main entry points are increased, evidence suggests that traffickers are using more local entry points.
3.7 There is increasing evidence that children of both UK and other citizenship are being trafficked internally within the UK for very similar reasons to those outlined above. There is evidence of teenage girls born in the UK being targeted for internal trafficking between towns and cities for sexual exploitation (see Child Sexual Exploitation - A Framework for Professionals Working with Children who Experience, or are at Risk of, Sexual Exploitation).
3.8 Trafficked children are victims of serious crime and this will impact on their health and welfare. In order to coerce and control, they are commonly subject to physical abuse including use of drugs and alcohol, emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect as a result of a lack of care about their welfare and the need for secrecy surrounding their circumstances.

4. Managing Individual Situations

4.1 Identification of Trafficked Children

All practitioners who come into contact with children and young people in their everyday work need to be able to recognise children who have been trafficked, and be competent to act to support and protect these children from harm. Early identification is key to protecting these vulnerable children. The child trafficking assessment toolkit has been designed to help front line staff identify children who may have potentially been trafficked as part of a new National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

If you think that Modern Slavery has taken place, the case should be referred to the NRM….you should complete the NRM referral form and send it to the competent authority'. see GOV.UK - Modern slavery victims: referral and assessment forms.

The nationality or immigration status of the child does not affect any agency's statutory responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Nationality and immigration issues should be discussed with the UK Visas and Immigration only when the child's need for protection from harm has been addressed and should not hold up action to protect the child.

4.2 Possible indicators

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.

The following indicators are not a definitive list and are intended as a guide to be included in a wider assessment of the child's circumstances.

At port of entry, the child:

  • Has entered the country illegally, has no passport or means of identification or has false documentation;
  • Is unable to confirm the name and address of the person meeting them on arrival;
  • Has had their journey or visa arranged by someone other than themselves or their family;
  • Is accompanied by an adult who insists on remaining with the child at all times;
  • Possesses money and goods not accounted for;
  • Is withdrawn and refuses to talk or appears afraid to talk to a person in authority;
  • Has a prepared story similar to those that other children have given;
  • Is unable or is reluctant to give details of accommodation or other personal details.

Whilst resident in the UK, the child:

  • Does not appear to have money but does have a mobile phone;
  • Receives unexplained/unidentified phone calls whilst in placement / temporary accommodation;
  • Has a history of missing links and unexplained moves;
  • Shows signs of physical or sexual abuse and/or has contracted a sexually transmitted infection or is pregnant;
  • Has gone missing from local authority care;
  • Appears to be missing for long periods;
  • Is required to earn a minimum amount of money every day, works in various locations, has limited amount of movement, is known to beg for money;
  • Is being cared for by adult/s who are not their parents and the quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carers is not good;
  • Performs excessive household chores and rarely leaves place of residence;
  • Is one among a number of unrelated children found at one address;
  • Has not been registered with or attended a GP practice; has not been enrolled in school.

For children internally trafficked in the UK, indicators include:

  • Physical symptoms indicating physical or sexual assault;
  • Behaviour indicating sexual exploitation;
  • Phone calls or letters being received by the child from adults outside the usual range of contacts;
  • The child persistently going missing; missing for long periods; returning looking well cared for despite having no known base;
  • The child possessing large amounts of money; acquiring expensive clothes/mobile phones without plausible explanation;
  • Adults loitering outside the child's place of residence;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where the child or young person has no known contacts;
  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, truancy and disengagement with education.

4.3 Referrals

Any agency or individual practitioner or volunteer who has a concern regarding the possible trafficking of a child should immediately make a referral as specified in Knowsley MASH (Multi-Agency Referral Form). Practitioners should not do anything which would heighten the risk of harm or abduction to the child.

Prompt decisions are needed when the concerns relate to a child who may be trafficked in order to act before the child goes missing.

Decision-making following the receipt of a referral will normally follow discussions with the Police, the person making the referral and may involve other professionals and services - see those identified in Section 12, Support Services and Useful Contacts.

4.4 Assessment

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.

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.

Specific action during the Single Assessment of a child who is possibly trafficked should include:

  • Seeing and speaking with the child and family members as appropriate - the adult purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer should not be present at interviews with the child, or at meetings to discuss future actions;
  • Drawing together and analysing information from a range of sources, including relevant information from the country or countries in which the child has lived. All agencies involved should request this information from their counterparts overseas. Information about who to contact can be obtained via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the appropriate Embassy or Consulate in London;
  • Checking all documentation held by the child, the family, the referrer and other agencies. Copies of all relevant documentation should be taken and together with a photograph of the child be included in the social worker's file.

Even if there are no apparent concerns, child welfare agencies should continue to monitor the situation until the child is appropriately settled.

4.5 Strategy Meeting and Section 47 Enquiries

Where there are child protection concerns Section 4 (Managing Individual Cases where there are Concerns about a Child's Welfare or Safety Procedures should be applied. A Strategy Meeting should take place to decide whether to instigate Section 47 Enquiries and if so how this should be undertaken. The Strategy Meeting should consider the risk to other children in the family or linked with the child.

4.6 Immediate Protection

If there is a risk to the life of the child or the likelihood of serious immediate harm, Children's Social Care and the Police should take emergency action to secure his/her safety prior to pursuing a Section 47 Enquiry. Immediate action to secure the child's safety could be agreed on a voluntary basis, but it may be necessary to obtain an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) or, when there is an urgent and immediate risk when to obtain an EPO would delay safeguarding a child, the use of powers of Police Protection should be considered. Consideration should also be given to the safety and protection of other children in the family.

4.7 Interviewing the child and family

Where it is decided that the family should be visited and interviewed, standard social work practice should be followed. Every attempt should be made to ensure that the child is seen alone, preferably in a safe environment. The social worker should also try and ensure that the carers are not in close proximity. Children will usually stick to their account and not speak until they feel comfortable. Professional interpreters, who have been approved and DBS checked, should be used where English is not the child's preferred language. Under no circumstances should the interpreter be the sponsor or another adult purporting to be a parent, guardian or relative. Every child should be given ample opportunity to disclose any worries away from the presence of the sponsor.

Where the carer refuses to allow the child or young person to be seen alone and this is considered essential to the completion of the Section 47 Enquiry, consideration should be given to the Local Authority taking legal steps, i.e. applying for a Emergency Protection Order, or to the Police taking action, i.e. using their powers of Police Protection, in order to facilitate this.

The interview should focus on the following areas:

  • Family composition, brothers, sisters, ages;
  • Parents' employment;
  • Length of time in this country;
  • Where they lived in their country of origin;
  • Who cared for them in their country of origin;
  • Where they went to school in their country of origin;
  • Who has cared for them in the UK;
  • Where they went to school in the UK;
  • Tasks done around the house.

The adults in the family should be interviewed separately covering the same areas. A comparison can then be made between the answers to ensure they match. The interview should be conducted as fully as possible to ensure accuracy and to avoid intrusion into the family for a longer period than is absolutely necessary.

All documentation should be seen and checked. This includes Home Office documentation, passports, visas, utility bills, tenancy agreements and birth certificates. Particular attention should be given to the documentation presented to the school at point of admission. It is not acceptable to be told that the passport is missing or that the paperwork is missing. It is extremely unlikely that a person does not know where their paperwork/official documentation is kept and this information could be considered as an indicator the child that may have been trafficked.

In the longer-term, information gathered at an interview might help to resolve the child's immigration status. Intelligence gathered from the interview could also stop others being trafficked from overseas. It is important that social workers bear in mind that immigration processes and s47 Investigations are separate.

4.8 Follow-up/Reconvened Strategy Meeting

On completion of a Section 47 Enquiry a multi-agency meeting should be held, convened by the social worker, and involving the social worker's supervising manager, the referring agency if appropriate, the Police and other relevant professionals to decide on any further action necessary to safeguard the child. Further action should not be taken until this meeting has been held and multi-agency agreement obtained to the proposed plan, including the need for an Initial Child Protection Conference.

Where it is found that the child is not a member of the family with whom he or she is living and is not related to any other person in this country, consideration should be given to whether the child needs to be moved from the household and/or legal advice sought on making a separate application for immigration status.

Any law enforcement action regarding fraud, trafficking, deception and illegal entry to this country is the remit of the Police and the local authority should assist in any way possible.

5. What Trafficked Children Need

Trafficked children need:

  • Professionals to be informed and competent in matters relating to trafficking and exploitation;
  • Someone to spend sufficient time with them to build up a level of trust;
  • Separate interviews - at no stage should adults purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer be present at interviews or at meetings with the child to discuss future action;
  • Safe placements if children are victims of organised trafficking operations and for their whereabouts to be kept confidential;
  • Legal advice about their rights and immigration status;
  • Discretion and caution to be used in tracing their families;
  • Risk assessments to be made of the danger if he or she is repatriated; and
  • Where appropriate, accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or an application of an Interim Care Order.

6. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin

In many cases, trafficked children apply to the UK Visas and Immigration for asylum or for humanitarian protection. For some, returning to their country of origin presents a high risk of being re-trafficked, further exploitation and abuse.

Unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

If a child does not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection and adequate reception arrangements are in place in the country of origin, the child will usually have to return. It is important that this is handled sensitively and with assistance with reintegration, which is available through voluntary return schemes.

7. Private Fostering

Some children in Private Fostering arrangements are vulnerable to being exploited in domestic servitude, other forms of forced labour, or even to sexual exploitation. It is difficult for practitioners to identify these children and, therefore, to track their movements and monitor their welfare. The information contained in this guidance on identification should help. However, it is important to consider if a carer, whether or not they present as a relative, is maintaining a Private Fostering arrangement in order to exploit a child for their own gain.

Staff or volunteers in an agency who believe that a child may be Privately Fostered, whether or not they have suspicions or concerns about trafficking or other forms of abuse, should contact Children's Social Care.

8. Trafficked Children who are Looked After

Trafficked children who are identified as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) may be accommodated by the local authority under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

The assessment of their needs to inform their Care Plan should include a risk assessment of how the local authority intends to protect them from any trafficker being able to re-involve the child in exploitative activities. This plan should include contingency plans to be followed if the child goes missing.

Whilst the child is Looked After, residential and foster carers should be vigilant about, for example, waiting cars outside the premises, telephone enquiries etc.

The local authority should continue to share with the Police any information which emerges during the placement of a child who may have been trafficked, concerning potential crimes against the child, risk to other children or relevant immigration matters.

9. Trafficked Children who are Missing

Significant numbers of children who are categorised as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing before they are properly identified as victims of trafficking. Such cases should be urgently reported and local authorities, through Children's Social Care, should consider seriously the risk that a trafficked child is likely to go missing and take this into account in planning that child's care.

A contingency plan could include contact details of agencies that should be notified if a potentially trafficked young person goes missing including the Police and, where appropriate, the "case owner" in the UKBA.

Where there are concerns that a trafficked child has been moved to a place elsewhere in the country away from their care placement, then it may be desirable to contact the Missing People Helpline:

Missing People have a team that offers support to local authorities when young people in their care go missing and this service can advise on issues such as contact with other police forces and national publicity.

Any child who goes missing should be reported to the Police as a matter of urgency and the UKBA must also be notified. When the child is Looked After the procedure for children missing from care must be followed - see Children Who Run Away or Go Missing From Home or Care Strategy Procedure.

Where missing children come to the attention of Children's Social Care or the Police, a 24 hour enquiry service available from the UKHTC may help in providing guidance. Additionally, to help social workers, police and other practitioners to better assist children whom they suspect may have been trafficked, the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Help Line (0800 47 7057) can offer support.

10. Inter-country Adoption

In some instances children may be trafficked for the purposes of adoption outside their country of origin. Those involved may deceive the authorities responsible for the adoption process and benefit through financial gain. It can include coercion or deception of birth parents and abduction.

The UK Government allows inter-country adoption to take place if it is in the child's best interests and in accordance with the principles of international law and where safeguards and standards equivalent to those which apply in domestic adoption are applied to protect the welfare of the child. At no point should profit be made from the process. Practitioners who suspect that a child may have been trafficked for purposes of adoption should follow the procedures in Section 4.3, Referrals.

If information about Adoption is required, contact the Adoption Manager in Children's Services.

11. Support Services and Useful Contacts

UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC)

T: 0114 252 3891

UKHTC (NCA website)

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

T: 020 7238 2320

CEOP website

NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Line

T:0808 800 5000

An advice and information service for professionals available since October 2007, a case consultancy service is also available by appointment.

Refugee Council Children's Panel

Refugee Council Online

Provides support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.


T: 020 7233 9887

ECPAT website

UK children's rights organisation campaigning to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation


T: 020 7405 5592

UNICEF website

Afruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse)

T:020 7704 2261

AFRUCA website

Promotes the welfare of African children in the UK and is concerned about cruelty against African children.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

T: 0207 008 1500

FCO website

The Missing People Helpline
Missing People website