Launch: A review of what works in multi-agency decision making and the implications for child victims of trafficking


The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has today launched a review produced in partnership with ECPAT UK, examining what works in existing multi-agency decision making frameworks to help inform future thinking on potential pilots for devolved National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision making for child victims of trafficking.

Each year, referrals into the NRM are increasing, with 4,550 children referred into the NRM in 2019, representing over 43% of all referrals. Whilst this may be an indicator of heightened awareness among professionals, the increase in referrals has highlighted fractures within the current system including

  • concerns about the quality of the NRM decisions;  
  • the timeliness of decisions and the impact of this delay on safeguarding actions; 
  • a disconnect between the NRM and local safeguarding processes; 
  • continued examples of agencies working in silo and gaps in knowledge among professionals about the NRM and what it means for children. 

Since the NRM was introduced in 2009, there have been multiple attempts to pilot and propose alternative decision making models for both children and adults.

This review identifies existing models currently used in multi-agency decision making frameworks for safeguarding adults and children. Recommendations for UK government and for local safeguarding partners in line with potential plans to pilot devolved NRM decision making call for

  • a devolved NRM decision making model that is intrinsically linked to local safeguarding structures;
  • sufficient funding for local safeguarding partnerships to meet the demands of contextual safeguarding interventions for children and young people who have been trafficked and exploited within their overall safeguarding duties as well as funding for any additional resource required to make NRM decisions locally;
  • all decisions to be made to attain the best interests of the child, also facilitating the voice of the child by ensuring that the wishes and feelings of children are understood and are taken into account.

Read the review: A review of what works in multi-agency decision making and the implications for child victims of trafficking


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“This timely review provides practical insights to influence potential pilots on devolved National Referral Mechanism decision making for child trafficking victims. We have seen a dramatic rise of children identified as victims of modern slavery and trafficking over recent years, with 4,550 child potential victims referred into the NRM in 2019. I am deeply concerned that the current system is not working and that we are not providing the wrap-around care that young people desperately need. We need to look at this urgently to ensure we are supporting these children to a safer future, and preventing further harm and re-exploitation.

This was a welcome opportunity to work with ECPAT UK, a leading charity in the field working to protect children from trafficking, abuse and exploitation, and placing child-centred decision making at the heart of policymaking. This was a true collaboration from the outset and I look forward to progressing this work with all partners in local and national government to improve the system of support for child victims of modern slavery and exploitation.”


Patricia Durr, Chief Executive Officer of ECPAT UK, said:

“ECPAT UK has consistently raised concerns about how the National Referral Mechanism works for child victims of trafficking. Our biggest concern is to ensure an integrated approach to children's rights and needs for protection so that children who have been trafficked are provided with specialist care to help them overcome the trauma of exploitation and prevent re-trafficking and other forms of abuse. We are so pleased that the Commissioner is committed to this goal too and to have had the opportunity to work collaboratively on this review.

Children's best interests must be at the heart of any decision making and without an approach that is truly joined up with local child safeguarding structures and processes, it is hard to see how this can be achieved. Working together we can all do better to improve decision making, increase understanding and improve practice so that we keep our focus on supporting and protecting children and young people - which is our collective goal, after all.”




Notes to editors

  • Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
  • The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019.
  • Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.
  • Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) is a leading children's rights organisation working to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation. ECPAT UK supports children everywhere to uphold their rights and to live a life free from abuse and exploitation.