19.8 The National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
Last updated 14/07/2021
Overview and role of competent authority
In accordance with the requirements of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the UK has a national referral mechanism for identifying and recording victims of trafficking and ensuring that they are provided with appropriate support wherever they are in the UK.
Decisions about who is a victim of trafficking are made by trained specialists in designated ‘Competent Authorities’. The UKHTC and UKBA act as the UK’s Competent Authorities with responsibility for the final decision on whether a frontline professional’s grounds for believing that the child has been trafficked are founded (i.e. whether the child is or is not a victim of trafficking).
19.8.4 Where necessary, the Competent Authority will assist in regularising a child’s immigration status, in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Human Trafficking.
As referrals are collated through the NRM process, the build up of evidence concerning child trafficking will inform policy makers and operational staff to take the necessary decisions and actions to combat child trafficking. In this sense. NRM referrals and the intelligence they provide contribute directly to UK efforts to tackle human trafficking and may ultimately lead to delivery of a reduction of children trafficked and who are ultimately safeguarded by a local authority.
Referrals into the NRM will provide a national picture of numbers of children trafficked, as well as supporting evidence which will assist in building up intelligence such as trends, routes of travel and details which may assist in leading to the arrest and conviction of those who commit this terrible crime.
NRM referrals will also help the local authority focus their approach to the appropriate response for the child by ensuring all available information can be gathered and shared quickly between partners. This will allow the child’s needs to be addressed as well as certain mitigating factors taken into account such as the risk of the child going missing.
In addition where necessary, the Competent Authority will assist in regularising a child’s immigration status. This will assist the child in accessing particular services.
Responsibility for the care, protection and accommodation of child trafficking victims rests with local authorities under their duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children. Separated and vulnerable children from abroad have the same entitlements as UK born or resident children.
Where a child is assessed as in need and becomes looked after by a local authority, a social worker will be responsible for putting in place an individualised care plan covering the full range of the child’s needs. The social worker will also make an assessment of the type of placement which best matches the needs of the child, including the need to safeguard them from contact with traffickers.
National referral mechanism overview:
The national referral mechanism comprises a four stage process for establishing formally that a child is a victim of trafficking:
Stage one – safeguarding assessment
In the first stage a frontline professional identifies that the child may be trafficked using the indicators in section 5.3, and undertakes a safeguarding assessment in line with section 5.7 (information gathering).
With support, as required, from the agency SPOC (see section 5.5, above), and using information from the safeguarding assessment, the professional completes the Trafficking assessment tool .
Stage two – referral to a competent authority
In cases where the front line professional suspects that a child may have been trafficked, LA children’s social care will refer the case to a competent authority by sending the child NRM referral form to UKHTC. This will be in addition to acting promptly before the child goes missing and initiating an assessment of the child’s levels of need / risk of harm.
Practitioners should be aware that the safeguarding of the child takes precedence and their needs should be addressed. An NRM referral should not prevent immediate safeguarding actions taking place, although information from the NRM assessment may be helpful to those considering the safeguarding response.
Stage three – ‘reasonable grounds’
Once the case has been formally referred, the Competent Authority will consider the details supplied on the First Responder Form along with any other evidence and apply a ‘reasonable grounds’ test to consider if the statement “I suspect but cannot prove” that the person is a victim of trafficking holds true. LA Children’s Social Care may be required to supply further information at this stage if there is insufficient information available.
The child will be granted an extendable refection and recovery period if the Competent Authority finds there are reasonable grounds to believe the child is a victim of trafficking. During this time UKBA will be asked to suspend removal action. This will allow for a fuller assessment of whether the child is a victim of trafficking. The 45 day period is also a period in which scope for criminal investigation can be explored.
Stage four – referral to competent authority
Following a positive reasonable grounds decision, Competent Authorities are required to make a second identification decision which is to conclusively decide if the individual is a victim of trafficking. As part of this decision, LA Children’s Social Care will be consulted and are expected to feed in any further information that may aid the decision making process.
LA Children’s Social Care can at any stage consider accessing assistance with reintegration available through voluntary return schemes (which are always the preferred way of carrying out any return to the child’s country of origin).
Following a negative reasonable grounds or conclusive decision the child may still have safeguarding needs especially if they are unaccompanied. Social workers should continue to make their own assessments of a child’s care needs in line with the statutory duty placed on local authorities by virtue of the Children act.