19.5 Identifying Trafficked and Exploited Children
Last updated 14/07/2021
Role of all professionals
All professionals who come into contact with children in their everyday work need to be able to identify children who may have been trafficked, and be competent to act to support and protect these children from harm. They should follow the practice guidance set out below, which is in accordance with the Sefton Child Protection Procedures. http://www.seftonlscb.co.uk/child-sexual-exploitation.aspx .
Whenever a professional identifies that a child may have been trafficked, s/he should act promptly before the child goes missing and assess the child’s levels of need / risk of harm as set out in this guidance.
Identifying trafficked children at ports of entry is likely to be difficult as they may not be showing obvious signs of distress (see section 5.2 Obstacles to self-identification, below). The ports’ intelligence units have developed a profile of trafficked children to assist immigration officers (see the attached Trafficking Toolkit). Other resources readily available to all staff include the local UKBA.
Child victims may be discovered in routine police operations to detect and disrupt trafficking networks, and during other criminal investigations both in the UK and abroad. Anyone who works with children may come into contact with a victim of trafficking.
All agencies working with children who may have been trafficked into and within the UK should work together to safeguard and promote their welfare, providing the same standard of care that is available to any other child in the UK. This may be the crucial intervention which breaks the cycle of the child being vulnerable to continuing or further exploitation.
Obstacles to self-identification
Children are unlikely to disclose they have been trafficked, as most do not have an awareness of what trafficking is or may believe they are coming to the UK for a better life, accepting that they have entered the country illegally. It is likely that the child will have been coached with a story to tell the authorities in the UK and warned not to disclose any detail beyond the story, as this would lead them to being deported.
Apparent collusion with the trafficker can add to confusion when attempting to identify a child as victim of trafficking. The child may be reluctant to disclose their circumstances because:
- Their experience of authority in their country of origin is such that they do not trust the police or other statutory agencies (s/he may provide a statement to a voluntary and community agency).
- The identification and referral process may mimic aspects of what had happened during trafficking – promises of help and a good life, movement by persons the child did not know, being taken to unknown locations where ‘everything would be fine’ and ‘they would be taken care of’.
- The circumstances, even under exploitation, in the UK may compare more favourably to the child’s experiences at home.
Disclosure from a child can take time, especially where the child is within the control of a trafficker or facilitator and relies on a relationship of trust and safety being established. If a child is in the care of a local authority, measures will need to be taken to make the placement safe for child victims of trafficking.
Possible indicators that a child may have been trafficked
Indicators are symptoms of a situation. Clusters of indicators around a child can highlight concern which triggers a systematic assessment of their circumstances and experiences. See Assessment Checklist in Trafficked Children Toolkit.
There are a number of indicators which suggest that a child may have been trafficked into the UK, and may still be controlled by the traffickers or receiving adults. These are as follows:
At port of entry
- Has entered the country illegally;
- Has no passport or other means of identification;
- Possesses money and goods not accounted for;
- Is malnourished;
- 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;
- Is withdrawn and refuses to talk or appears afraid to talk to a person in authority;
- Has a prepared story very similar to those that other children have given;
- Exhibits self-assurance, maturity and self-confidence not expected to be seen in a child of such age;
- Does not appear to have money but does have a mobile phone; and/or
- Is unable or reluctant to give details of accommodation or other personal details.
The sponsor could:
- Be a community member, family member, or any other intermediary;
- Have previously made multiple visa applications for other children and/or has acted as the guarantor for other children’s visa applications; and/or
- Is known to have acted as the guarantor on the visa applications for other visitors who have not returned to their countries of origin on the expiry of those visas.
See section 7.1.3Check for actions following the identification of a trafficked child by port authority staff.
The indicators of Trafficking are contained in the Assessment Checklist within the Trafficked Children Toolkit they should not be read as a definitive list and professionals should be aware of any other unusual factors that may suggest a child might have been trafficked.
They are intended as a guide, which should be included in a wider assessment of the young person’s circumstances as well as part of a trafficking assessment. See the Sefton Child Protection Procedures for further information on private fostering missing children and child sexual exploitation.
It is also important to note that trafficked children might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse and this makes identifying children who may have been trafficked difficult. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked, while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked.
Private fostering is defined in section 66 of the Children Act 1989. A private fostering arrangement arises when a child under 16 years (or under 18 if disabled) is to reside for more than 28 days in the care of someone who is not a parent, close relative, or someone with parental responsibility (these close relatives are defined by the Act as grandparents, brother, sister, uncle or aunt whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership or step-parent).
Many private fostering arrangements are not notified to the local authority for a variety of reasons, not all associated with a risk of serious harm. Identifying a child who is privately fostered is not the same as identifying a child who has been trafficked. Nevertheless, some children in private fostering arrangements are vulnerable to being exploited in domestic servitude, other forms of forced labour, or even to sexual exploitation. Where indicators of child trafficking are present, a child trafficking assessment will provide a vehicle to aid in identification.
Local expertise in relation to trafficked children
Sefton all agencies should have a nominated SPOC reporting annually to the LSCB.
The Trafficking Assessment Checklist
Professionals should use the Assessment Checklist in section 1a of the Trafficked Children Toolkit attached to identify and assess whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the child is trafficked. The checklist can be used to assist initial identification or as an aid to thinking as part of the assessment process e.g. the CAF or Children and Families assessments.
The Assessment Checklist is a tool to assist professionals (the term includes unqualified managers, staff and volunteers) in using the available information to focus their thinking and form the basis for discussion about the risk of harm - through trafficking - to a child. This may include deciding that the available information is not enough to form a sound judgement about the risk.
If a professional ticks a descriptor which indicates that a child is at risk of harm (e.g. ‘physical symptoms of exploitative abuse’ or ‘under age marriage’), the professional should make an immediate referral to LA children’s social care, in line with section 7.1 Referral to LA children’s social care.