Tracking child trafficking cases: what we’ve learnt

Findings from a small scale study of cases involving child trafficking concerns


Commissioned by the Cafcass Child Exploitation (CE) Group, the study, ‘Tracking child trafficking cases: what we’ve learnt‘, looks at what we can learn from cases where Family Court Advisers (FCAs) had identified concerns about trafficking. This is part of their work to collate learning around the vulnerabilities for children in these situations and develop a unified approach to address the risks.

The study looked at 82 cases identified by FCAs, concerning 97 subject children. The majority of children in the sample were female (70%) and there were additional concerns about child sexual exploitation (CSE) for 44% of children.

Two key findings from the study are that:

  • suspected cases of child trafficking can come to Cafcass via private law applications;
  • there are a number of children identified as potential victims of both CSE and trafficking.


Private law learning

While the majority of cases flagged by FCAs as featuring trafficking concerns were in public law (care cases), the sample included 11 private law cases (child arrangement orders following divorce or separation, prohibited steps and parental responsibility applications). The CE working group had already identified the possibility of such applications being made with the purpose of ‘legitimising’ children who have been trafficked. The study found examples of children living with adults who falsely presented as family members. Some children were known to Cafcass following police protection measures – if the adult posed a risk – or through private law applications.


Prevalence of CSE and trafficking

The study found that CSE is the most common additional child need to be identified by FCAs alongside trafficking, identified for 44% of children in the sample. Children with both CSE and trafficking risks were most likely to be female teenagers, with the trafficking risk relating to their being moved within the UK. All of the cases of children trafficked within the UK for sexual exploitation were public law, and some had been involved in previous proceedings.

Richard Green, National Child Care Policy Manager and member of the working group, says, “While the report is not representative of all trafficking cases that come to Cafcass’ attention, it does provide insight into the types of concerns that are raised within both our private and public law work, and confirms that FCAs are identifying cases of both international trafficking and trafficking within the UK.”

Deborah Murphy-Smith, Senior Service Manager, also on the working group adds, “The study highlights the number of cases that feature both trafficking and CSE as a child need. Recording child needs on our case management system provides us with valuable data that can help bring about improvements in our practice.”

We are currently developing eLearning on best practice around assessing cases featuring child trafficking, which the study will feed into.


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