15.10 Safeguarding Children who arrive from abroad (including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation)

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This poilcy was last reviewed in Jan 2022

Date of next review Jan 2024 

see also - Criminal and sexual exploitation including serious organised crime and gangs Child victims of modern slavery and trafficking

JAN 2022 - The National Transfer Scheme has become temporarily mandatory for all local authorities. All local authorities have been given legal notice to accept transfers of children into their care, providing placements to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. 

The Home Office will consider a number of factors when transferring children to a local authority including the existing child population, the number of supported asylum seekers and pressures on children’s services, and the best interests of the child. Local Authorities will not need to accept unaccompanied asylum-seeking children where this cohort already makes up 0.07% or more of their general child population.  The scheme will be kept under review and the length of time for mandating will be determined by a range of factors including intake levels and how long it takes to end the use of hotels.





Children arrive into the UK from overseas every day. Many do so legally in the care of their parents and raise no concerns for statutory agencies. However, there are some children arriving into the UK who are:


  • In the care of adults who have no Parental Responsibility for them;
  • In the care of adults who have no documents to demonstrate a relationship with the child;
  • In the control of traffickers/agents.


  • Alone

Unaccompanied children, or those accompanied by someone who is not their parent, are particularly vulnerable. Many of these children and sometimes their carers will need assistance to ensure the child receives adequate care and access to services, such as health and education services.


The possibility that some of these children maybe classed as Privately Fostered should be kept in mind –  please see  the Private Fostering section in Children Living Away from Home 


A small number of these children may be exposed to the additional risk of all forms of exploitation  - please see  8.39 Criminal and sexual exploitation including serious organised crime and gangs | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual


Immigration legislation impacts significantly on work under the Children Act 1989 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from abroad. The regulations and legislation in this area of work are complex and subject to constant change through legal challenge and case law. All practitioners need to be aware of this context. Legal advice on individual cases will usually be required.


Additional issues are likely to arise in relation to this cohort of children, whether or not they are found to be, or suspected of being, victims of trafficking or modern slavery. Additional considerations in all cases are likely to include issues such as immigration status, the need for interpreters and specialist legal advice. Some of these children may have been persecuted and have witnessed or been subject to horrific acts of violence. 


Unaccompanied, internally displaced children may come to the UK seeking asylum or may be here to attend school or join their family. An unaccompanied child may be the subject of a Private Fostering arrangement, and subsequently exploited or abandoned when the arrangement fails.


Some children may say they are unaccompanied when claiming asylum – a trafficker may have told the child that in doing so they will be granted permission to stay in the UK and be entitled to claim welfare benefits.


A significant number of children who are referred to local authority care as trafficked children or unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC), often then go missing and many go missing within one week. It is thought that they are then trafficked internally, within the UK, or out of the UK to other European countries.


Whenever an unaccompanied child presents in a local authority area, all agencies dealing with the child should be alert to the possibility that the child may have been a victim of modern slavery, including the possibility that the child has been trafficked, and ensure that all relevant information about the child’s circumstances is communicated to Children’s Services. 



This policy is produced to assist staff in all agencies to:

  • Understand the issues which can make children from abroad particularly vulnerable;
  • Identify children from abroad who may be in need of protection;
  • Know what action to take in accordance with their responsibilities.

The focus is primarily on child protection and on those children who are unaccompanied or who are accompanied or met by adults who have no documents to demonstrate their relationship with the child.


Sections 8.8.24- 8.8.43 supports and understanding of the support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may require. Section 8.8.59 of this policy talks to the trafficking of children.



The key principles underpinning practice within all agencies in relation to unaccompanied children from abroad or those accompanied by someone who does not hold Parental Responsibility are:

  • Children from abroad are children first - this can often be forgotten in the face of legal and cultural complexities;
  • Children arriving from abroad who are unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent should be assumed to be children in need, unless assessment indicates that this is not the case, and require referral to the Front Door/ Integrated Front  Door /SPOA.
  • Assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely;
  • Assessing the needs of children from abroad is only possible if their legal status, background experiences and culture are understood, including the culture shock of arrival in this country. The assessment should be conducted in the child’s first language and with an interpreter present;
  • The need to actively seek out information from other sources;
  • An avoidance of 'interrogating' the child.




The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) define a child as

every human being below the age of 18 years.

 A UASC/UAM is defined by the Home Office as:

  • An individual who is under 18.
  • Arrived in the UK without a responsible adult or guardian and is not being  cared for by a parent or guardian who by law or custom has responsibility to do so
  • Has no responsible adult or guardian in the UK
  • Is separated from parents or guardian and is applying for asylum in the UK including those who enter the UK accompanied but become unaccompanied during their stay. (Home Office 2016)

Spontaneous arrivals

Most young people who arrive in the UK are spontaneous arrivals, meaning they arrive in the UK in an unplanned way, and routinely present as follows:

  • At a port or airport i.e. Newhaven or Gatwick, having travelled in via air, or into the port most usually in the back of a lorry or other vehicle.
  • Presenting at a local police station, local garage, mosque (or similar), having travelled into the area in the back of a lorry or other vehicle, then dropped off near services
  • Being reported to police by a member of the public as they have been identified as wandering alone and potentially at risk.
  • Located by police or UK Border Force (UKBF) officers, during operations; for example, to address illegal activity and/or exploitation.

Any young person presenting at a port or airport who states they are under 18 years old, will first be responded to by UKBF officers, who will follow their process for dealing with a UASC/UAM, in order to safeguard them.


On all occasions where a UASC/UAM is located in Sussex, they will be engaged with by Sussex police and the officer/s dealing with the young person will do so in the most appropriate and proportionate way to ensure they are safeguarded. This could include the use of police protection powers, if appropriate. 


Young people who say they are under 18 should not be taken to custody, instead they should be taken to the most appropriate alternative local police facility.


UKBF and police officers should contact children’s services in the area the child/young person presented, at the very earliest opportunity, to advise them there is a newly arrived young person in their care who is saying they are under 18 years old.


The young person will become the responsibility of Children’s Services in the area they present.


Once notified of an unaccompanied minor in their area, Children’s Services (daytime or EDS) will make arrangements in line with their local policy for responding to spontaneous arrivals, and statutory duty to provide accommodation and care going forward:


If there is any doubt about the young person being an adult or a child, the benefit of the doubt must be given to them being a child, and they should be passed into the care of social workers in the respective local authority social work team. They should be placed into appropriate accommodation, without prejudice, until a full age assessment can be completed, in line with local policy and procedure, and the ADCS Age Assessment Guidance (good practice for social workers).



The decision to undertake a full age assessment is one for Children’s Services to make.


This route to being accommodated happens under Section 20 (S.20) of the Children Act (1989) in the absence of a parent or guardian to give consent, which will mean they become a Looked After Child (LAC).


S.20 outlines the duty of the local authority to accommodate a child in need; the criteria are that a child requires accommodation because there is no one with parental responsibility for them, because they are lost or have been abandoned, or because the person who has been caring for them is prevented from providing them with suitable accommodation or care. Regardless of immigration status, a UASC in the UK is a child in need at the point they present, and are, therefore, eligible for S.20 support.


Planned arrivals

Where a local authority is participating in the Home Office National Transfer Scheme (NTS), and agrees to accept children and young people from another local authority as part of that scheme, their local agreement and processes will be followed – these will vary from area to area.


The National Transfer Scheme (NTS) was created to enable the safe transfer of UASC/UAM from one UK local authority to another. It is designed to ensure a fairer distribution of UASC across all local authorities and all regions of the UK. The intention is to manage the disproportionate number of spontaneous arrivals into certain local authorities, such as Kent and Portsmouth, more effectively and allow for appropriate services and statutory duties to be carried out.

National UASC dispersal protocol v0.4 (publishing.service.gov.uk)


Children or young people arriving with, or to be with, an adult who is not the parent

Children who arrive in the UK with or to be with carers without parental responsibility may have leave to enter the country or visas or they may be in the UK unlawfully. When an unaccompanied child or child accompanied by someone who does not have parental responsibility comes to the attention of any practitioner a referral should be made to Children’s Services. Children’s Services will have responsibilities towards them if they are assessed to be in need. If that is the case support and accommodation can be provided by Children’s Services for the child, and may also be provided for the family, if otherwise the family would be destitute. The local authority assumes parental responsibility for the child and is bound by the same responsibilities as they would have for any other looked after child. This also includes careleaving support once a young person reaches 18 if they qualify. This support can extend up to a young persons 25th birthday dependant on their immigration status. In addition, Children’s Services will have responsibilities towards the child if they are privately fostered.


Whereas many carers may be genuine and provide good care for the children/young people, in other cases children and young people will be with adults who are barely known to them or who present a risk. The risk may be directly from the adult or from trafficking and exploitation.


It is essential to assess the attachment and bonding between the child or young person and the adult who is not a parent. The identity of the adult should be sought and full police (UK , country of origin and countries travelled through) and Border Force checks should be carried out to ascertain additional information pertaining to whether the adult may pose a risk to them child. Consideration should be given to removing the child from the adult’s care until professionals are satisfied that the relationship is genuine.


Wherever possible, the details of the parent are to be obtained, and, if possible, contact made with the parents in order to ascertain their account as to why the child or young person is in the care of another person. It should not be presumed that a parent who is living abroad cannot be contacted unless this has been established by actively seeking to do so.


A child arriving from abroad who is unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent should be assumed to be a child in need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case. The assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely.

Identification and Initial Action


The first contact with the child and carers is crucial to the engagement with the family and the promotion of trust which underpins the future support, advice and services.


Whenever any professional comes across a child who they believe has moved into this country the following basic information should be sought, a gentle approach is required when ascertaining:  

  • Child's identity, age and immigration status;
  • Carer's relationship with the child and their immigration status;
  • Child's health and education arrangements in this county.
  • Child’s health and education arrangements in the country of origin and any other country that the child has travelled through.

When children arrive in the UK without an adult, they are considered to be unaccompanied minors. When an unaccompanied child or child accompanied by someone who does not have Parental Responsibility comes to the attention of any practitioner, a referral should be made to the local Children’s Services . An Assessment will be undertaken in order to determine whether they are a Child in Need of services, including the need for protection.


Whether they are unaccompanied or accompanied by someone who is not their parent they should be assumed to be a Child in Need unless assessment indicates that this is not the case. The assessment of need should include a separate discussion with the child in a setting where, as far as possible, they feel able to talk freely. This, in itself, may be a complex process where the assessor may not be able to speak the same language as the child.


Practitioners should explore whether there are any friends or family that could look after the child and relevant assessments carried out.


If there is no family or friends available these children should be looked after by the local authority. For the majority of these children there is no need to apply for a care order and they can be looked after under s20 Children Act 1989 – See sections 8.8.44 - 8.8.50 on Parental Responsibility


Any unaccompanied children arriving in the UK from overseas, without appropriate visa’s do not have a legal right to be in the country. Children, however, cannot be deported before they are 18 and the local authorities duty to provide support stands.


The vast majority of these children will have the right to make a claim for asylum and they should be supported through this process by their social worker who will make referrals to the Home office and to solicitors to initiate this process.


Whilst the Home Office considers a child’s application for asylum they will be given a Asylum Registration Card and will be granted UASC (unaccompanied asylum seeking child) leave. Whilst the home office is considering the application the child will be unable to work and will be entirely reliant on the Local Authority for financial support.

Parental responsibility


The Children Act 1989 is built around the concept of Parental Responsibility. This legal framework provides the starting point for considering who has established responsibility and duties towards a child.


In some cultures child rearing is a shared responsibility between relatives and members of the community. Adults may bring children to this country whom they have cared for most of their lives, but who may be unrelated or 'distantly' related.


An adult whose own immigration status is unresolved cannot apply for a Child Arrangements Order to secure a child for whom they are caring for.


Children whose parents' whereabouts are not known have no access to their parents for consent when making important choices about their life. Whilst their parents still have Parental Responsibility they have no way of exercising it.


Children who do not have someone with Parental Responsibility caring for them can still attend school, and schools are strongly encouraged to be pragmatic in allowing the carer to make most decisions normally made by the parent.

Such children are entitled to health care and have a right to be registered with a GP. If there are difficulties in accessing a GP, the local Integrated Care Boards should be contacted to assist.

 Emergency life-saving treatment would be given if required. However, should the child need medical treatment such as surgery or invasive treatment in a non life-threatening situation, the need for consent would become an issue and legal advice would be required.


Children's Specialist Services have statutory duties where the child is deemed Privately Fostered. 8.7 Children Living Away from Home | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual


Some carers/parents are eligible to claim benefits for their child but this is dependent upon immigration status.

How to seek information from abroad


Professionals from all key agencies - Health, Education, Children's Services and the Police - should consider requesting information from their equivalent agencies in the country or countries in which a child has lived, in order to gain as full as possible a picture of the child's preceding circumstances.

Before doing so, professionals should take time to acquaint themselves with the situation in a child's country and to develop an understanding of the regional and cultural context. 

Care should be exercised as to the weight given to any information from abroad when it comes to analysis and conclusions or indeed if there is no information. Information may be partial, collected within a certain context or written with an agenda for example. Children and families should be given.



The assessment has to address not only the barriers which arise from cultural, linguistic and religious differences, but also the particular sensitivities which come from the experiences of many such children and families.

The needs of the child have to be considered, based on an account given by the child or family about a situation, which the professional has neither witnessed nor experienced. In addition, it is often presented in a language, and about a culture and way of life, with which the professional is unfamiliar.

The views of the child/young person should always be interviewed alone in order to establish the following:

  • Their understanding of the situation.
  • Their knowledge of the adults with who they are travelling.
  • Their relationship to the adults with whom they are travelling.
  • Their wishes and feelings.

It is vital that the services of an interpreter are employed in the child's first language and that care is taken to ensure that the interpreter knows the correct dialect. Agencies should ensure that the interpreter shares a common language with the child, is professionally trained and has been screened through a DBS check.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.


Particular sensitivities which may be present include:

  • Concerns around immigration status.
  • Fear of repatriation.
  • Anxiety raised by yet another professional asking similar question to ones previously asked.
  • Lack of understanding of the separate role of children's social care, and that it is not an extension of the police.
  • Lack of understanding of why an assessment needs to be carried out.
  • Previous experience of being asked questions under threat or torture, or seeing that happen to someone else.
  • Past trauma – past regime/experiences can impact upon the child's mental and physical health. This experience can make concerns from the authorities about minor injury or poor living conditions seem trivial and this mismatch may add to the fear and uncertainty.
  • The journey itself as well as the previous living situation may have been the source of trauma.
  • The shock of arrival – the alien culture, system and language can cause shock and uncertainty, and can affect mood, behaviour and presentation.
  • Children being groomed/ coerced/ scripted into what to say to professionals to avoid raising suspicions of trafficking, exploitation or criminality by the adult accompanying them

In such circumstances, reluctance to divulge information, fear, confusion or memory loss can easily be mistaken for lack of cooperation, deliberate withholding of information or untruthfulness.


Professionals should ensure that the engagement with the child is planned and thought through. This will provide opportunities to expand on the initial contact. The ethnicity, culture, customs and identity of this child must be a focus whilst keeping this child central to the assessment.

The assessment should take account of any psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them.

Seeking information from abroad should be a routine part of assessing the situation of an unaccompanied child. Practitioners from all key agencies – health, education, children's social care and the police – should all be prepared to request information from their equivalent agencies in the country or countries in which a child has lived, in order to gain as full as possible a picture of the child's preceding circumstances.


Other factors to consider are:               

  • The child's developmental needs ­– Consider: impact of trauma and loss; education, if any; self-care skills should not be judged by comparing a child or young person of the same age in this country; physical appearance may be affected by lack of nourishment; perceptions of disability; impact of racism.
  • Parenting capacity – Consider: mobility due to war, famine, persecution; stability of family unit may be more important than home; motive for giving up a child isn’t necessarily rejection; talking about family can be stressful and painful; additional issues of parenting a child conceived through rape.
  • Family and environmental factors – Consider: importance of economic and social hardship; family history and functioning may have included the loss of previous high status as well as periods of desolation.

Where the Assessment indicates that a child may have suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the child's welfare must be safeguarded.

During the Assessment, additional factors need to be taken into account.

  • Perceptions of authority, and the role of the police in particular.
  • The additional implications of deciding to prosecute for a family where deportation is a real threat.
  • Balancing the impact of separation on a child with the likely history of separation/disruption.
  • Judgements about child care practices in the context of such different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

Where the Assessment indicates that a child may have suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the child's welfare must be safeguarded.

During the Assessment, additional factors need to be taken into account.

  • Perceptions of authority, and the role of the police in particular.
  • The additional implications of deciding to prosecute for a family where deportation is a real threat.
  • Balancing the impact of separation on a child with the likely history of separation/disruption.
  • Judgements about child care practices in the context of such different cultural backgrounds and experiences.

The Trafficking of Children

Independent Family Returns Panel


The Secretary of State must consult the Independent Family Returns Panel in each family returns case, on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family, and in each case where the Secretary of State proposes to detain a family in pre-departure accommodation, on the suitability of so doing, having particular regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children of the family.


A family returns case is a case where a child who is living in the United Kingdom is to be removed from or required to leave the United Kingdom, together with their parent/carer. 


Pre-departure accommodation is a secure facility designed to be used as a last resort where families fail to co-operate with other options to leave the UK, such as the offer of assisted voluntary return.


The Panel may request information in order that any return plan for a particular family has taken into account any information held by other agencies that relates to safeguarding, welfare or child protection. In particular a social worker or manager from Children's Social Care may be invited to contribute to the Panel.

Referring a Potential Victim of Modern Slavery to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)


A local authority (as a 'first responder') identifying a potential victim of modern slavery must refer them to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for consideration by the competent authority. Children’s Services are able to make a referral into the NRM, as they may be entitled to further support. Victims can be of any nationality, and may include British national children, such as those trafficked for child exploitation or those trafficked as drug carriers internally in the UK. The NRM does not supersede child protection procedures, so existing safeguarding processes should still be followed in tandem with the notifications to the NRM. See also National Referral Mechanism: Guidance for Child First Responders.

There is no minimum requirement for justifying a referral into the NRM and consent is not required for children. Communicate honestly with the child about your concerns and reasons for referring them into the NRM.

To complete and see where to send the forms, and the associated guidance, visit Digital Referral System: Report Modern Slavery.

The Duty to Notify - Local authorities have a duty to notify the Home Office about any potential victims of Modern Slavery. It is intended to gather better data about modern slavery. This requirement can be satisfied by completing the National Referral Mechanism Digital Form.

Children returning from Syria


Over the last few years, a number of British children have travelled to Syria either on their own initiative or were taken there by their parents. Having lived in a war zone, the majority of these children are likely to have been exposed to terrorism and extremist ideology and witnessed incidents that will almost certainly have had an impact on their mental and emotional development. The Department for Education has produced  guidance for local authorities on how to manage cases involving British children who return to England from Syria, and the centrally funded support available to help safeguard them.  

This page is correct as printed on Thursday 18th of April 2024 02:46:44 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.