Child Trafficking, Modern Slavery and Exploitation Training with Frontline Fellow Phil

25th September 2020

Child trafficking often goes under the radar and is an issue very few professionals have a high level of knowledge or awareness around. In order to change this Frontline Fellow Phil Spencer, who now works in a mission aligned role at Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), recently ran a training session for fellows on child trafficking, modern slavery and exploitation. We caught up with Phil to find out more about the training session and why training such as this is so important, especially for social workers. 

Last year the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support, had a 53% increase in referrals, rising to 10,627 in 2019. Although there has been such a large increase in referrals, we know this is only a tip of the iceberg and many victims of trafficking are not being identified or receiving the support they need. Most alarmingly and for the first time ever, more referrals were received for child potential victims of trafficking than adults.

This is why issues such as child trafficking are so prevalent in safeguarding work now. Professionals are increasingly looking at what’s happening outside of the home when safeguarding children. At the same time, identifying and supporting child victims of trafficking requires specific knowledge and training, which unfortunately many professionals do not currently have. For these reasons, not forgetting the enormous scale of the problem, social workers and in particular social work organisations, should seek out the necessary training, so that we can ensure the thousands of children affected receive the support they need.

To start the session, we looked at the different forms of trafficking: forced labour, trafficking for child sexual abuse, child criminal exploitation, domestic servitude, organ harvesting and forced marriage. These forms of trafficking are almost always intertwined: very rarely do you have a young person exploited in just one way. Normally we would go over this in great detail, however I choose not to do this with fellows. This is because social workers are usually reasonably well informed about these issues. For example, this was something we looked at when I was training to be a social worker on the Frontline programme in 2015 and something the new 2020 Cohort looked at during their summer institute a few weeks ago. The real value to the training we give at ECPAT UK is we focus on the what next? What do we do as practitioners and as social workers to respond to child trafficking?

All of the content is very much youth-led. We ask our experts by experience, who have experienced child trafficking, to design the training with us. The sessions we run are also co-led by an expert by experience, giving the group the opportunity to hear directly from a young person about their experience and opinions. 

Something that comes up time and time again with the young people we work with is that they are not believed and their age is disputed. There seems to be a perception that the majority of unaccompanied children are actually adults who know if they pretend to be a child they’ll get a lot of benefits, which isn’t the case. Professionals also often have little understanding of the relevant statutory guidance, case law and legislation. We frequently come across age assessments carried out by social workers which are not compliant with UK, European and international law, so educating professionals about this is a key part to the training. 

We also discussed what we think works best when responding to child victims of trafficking. For example, we looked at how to identify key critical moment intervention, key moments of a young person’s life and trafficking experience.  

Ultimately, child victims of trafficking face many challenges, from being vulnerable to new forms of exploitation, going missing from care and being re-trafficked, to name just a few. This is why frontline professionals need to be adequately equipped to work with child victims. When social workers are properly trained on how to respond to child trafficking, we see examples of excellent practice that really does safeguard young people and change their lives.

If you are a practising social worker in and around London you can refer any young person you suspect of being a child victim of trafficking to ECPAT UK’s youth program; and we can deliver training to any professionals across the UK. If you have any questions, contact Phil here: