Creating Stable Futures: Human Trafficking, Participation and Outcomes for Children

Creating Stable Futures: Human Trafficking, Participation and Outcomes for Children

Creating Stable Futures: Human Trafficking, Participation and Outcomes for Children


This report outlines a 12-month participatory research study into understanding how to ensure protection, support and positive outcomes for children and young people who have arrived in the UK and have experienced modern slavery or human trafficking. This study has been conducted by a partnership formed by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University, the University of Bedfordshire and ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking).

The voices of children and young people who have experienced human trafficking, modern slavery or exploitation are missing from debates in the UK.2 Their opinions are rarely taken into account in the development of law, policy and services. The findings of this participatory research study address this with the views of the 31 young people involved in the study. Findings are structured around the four General Principles of the United Nations Convention relating to Children – non-discrimination (Article 2), the best interests of the child (Article 3), the right to life, survival and development (Article 6) and the right to participation (Article 12) – and what these mean for young people in their everyday lives.

We found that a focus on outcomes for children and young people3 affected by modern slavery, human trafficking or exploitation is absent from literature and debate in the UK. This is made more complex because in practice and in literature, the meaning of the term ‘outcomes’ is variable. What Works for Children’s Social Care defines ‘outcomes’ as the consequence of an action, where an action is a particular service or way of working.4 In this study we follow such a definition but focus on rights based, child-defined outcomes which we define in this report as views of their own progress, lived experience and the main goals they wish to achieve. This definition is set out with an understanding that achievement of outcomes is relational and situationally contingent on the structures, systems and processes in which they enjoy those rights.

Aims and Objectives

The overarching aim of this study was to understand what positive outcomes might look like from the perspectives of young people subjected to human trafficking, modern slavery and/or exploitation, and what pathways towards these positive outcomes might look like in practice. Specific objectives were to:

• Devise and develop a young person-informed outcomes framework for what positive outcomes might look like in a UK context based on the knowledge and lived experience of young people.

• Explore the four General Principles of the UNCRC with young people and the themes of participation, inclusion, protection, empowerment and recovery.

• Design and conduct a scoping review of UK peer-reviewed literature on outcomes and an international review of systematic reviews on trafficking, trafficking-adjacent and the ‘what works’ evidence-base across a range of trafficking and other cognate social issues.

• Design and circulate a global call for relevant national or international stakeholders to gather evidence often lacking in academic literature.

• Bring young people’s views, knowledge and experiences regarding positive outcomes into the centre of policy making with suggestions for improvements and specific recommendations for policy and practice.

Summary of Findings

The findings of this research study have been laid out below based in order of the four General Principles of the UNCRC – non-discrimination (Article 2), the best interests of the child (Article 3), the right to life, survival and development (Article 6) and the right to participation (Article 12). This research project originally set out to look at what short-, medium- and long-term positive outcomes might look like in the UK context, with a distinct focus on the knowledge and experience of young people themselves. Workshop facilitators explored this and found that:

• Outcomes discussed by young people were rarely linear or confined within short, medium or long-term framings. Young people discussed how outcomes across these different periods were interrelated and difficult to disaggregate in their lives. As such these temporal framings were largely artificial in the lives of young people. Instead, young people discussed how outcomes changed over time alongside their needs and in response to their experiences of the systems, people and services they encounter.


• Barriers to positive outcomes were identified by young people as structural, systemic and discriminatory, such as their experiences of the immigration and asylum systems, the criminal justice system and support in care. They considered the ways in which structural inequality can shape professional practices and attitudes across agencies.

• The emphasis young people gave to the negative impact of immigration procedures is immense – they often highlighted the distressing nature of asylum decision making and some described waiting in immigration ‘limbo’ as being worse than experiences of exploitation. They say these procedures undermine the recognition and realisation of rights, and place young people at risk of further exploitation.

• Young people placed a significant emphasis on the need for good quality, well-trained interpreters and, where possible, interpreters with child protection training.

• It was clear from this study that young people felt transitioning into ‘adulthood’ in the UK made them feel and be less safe and posed numerous barriers to achieving positive outcomes in the long term, particularly for those within protracted immigration processes.

• Young people directly highlighted equality and freedom as important outcomes. They linked freedom to equality of opportunity – being able to build a future and make positive contributions to society. Both these outcomes identified by young people as important are thematically linked to inclusion.

Best interests of the child

• High quality legal advice in the fields of immigration, asylum, public and criminal law was identified by young people as a defining factor in the outcomes as this related to their gaining status and having a foundation for their lives, hopes, aspirations and contributions in the UK. This also included legal advice on family reunification.

• Young people with independent guardians felt listened to and heard, facilitating better child protection. They also outlined how being kept informed about what is happening helps.

• Published literature on human trafficking focuses overwhelmingly on the negative outcomes and consequences of exploitation. Available evidence on the impact of policies and interventions following identification is limited, with some notable exceptions.

• The predominant focus on negative outcomes in the literature lies in contrast to how young people within this study envisaged their futures. Young people discussed the search for safety and protection, drawing on their strengths and capabilities, as well as their endurance of complex and often protracted social care, immigration, and criminal justice processes in the UK.

Right to life, survival and development

• Young people directly highlighted safety – being safe and feeling safe – as an important outcome, recognising the importance of safety as a contingent foundation for the realisation of other outcomes. Physical safety was expressed through having a safe home and place to live as key to feeling and being safe. They saw having trust in professionals and systems as a key factor in achieving physical and relational safety and told us a lot about the default of disbelief in professional responses, which makes them feel frightened and unsafe.

• There is a lack of evidence on how experiences of trafficking and exploitation affect physical, emotional and social development for this population of children and young people. However, young people stated that the factors that promote healthy development relate to trusting relationships with sensitive and caring adults, feeling safe, valued and loved in nurturing environments, and a sense of belonging and community. The responses of disbelief and distrust and the victim-blaming that young people told us about can have long-term impacts, as children face increasingly hostile age assessments which have a direct impact on their futures and long-term outcomes.

• Young people directly highlighted stability and peace as important outcomes. They conceptualised peace as recovery, including psychological recovery and the recovery of ordinary life, identifying a clear relationship between protection and inclusion outcomes.

• Young people had a broad conception of what protection means for them which included aspects relating to safety, faith and belief, trust and confidence, knowing their rights and entitlements, having positive relationships in a safe and secure home and community and accessing education and learning opportunities.

Participation and the right to be heard

• The views of children affected by human trafficking, modern slavery and/or exploitation are rarely sought and included in literature about them, even those pertaining to children’s rights.

• A specific focus on outcomes for children and young people affected by exploitation, trafficking and/or modern slavery is absent from literature in the UK.

• A ‘survivor turn’ has occurred across other topics and is now being welcomed within human trafficking and modern slavery debates. There are cognate topics such as Violence Against Women (VAW) that hold insights relevant to trafficking, including their approach of working ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ or ‘for’ survivors as an understood aspect of interventions. This is still an underdeveloped area in relation to children and young people.

• Pathways to positive outcomes are contingent on ensuring work with children and young people is participatory, child-centred, and has a rights and entitlements approach that is underpinned by relational approaches built on trust. The quality and timing of support were found to be key factors influencing these pathways

• In this study, young people responded well to having their thoughts, views, needs, hopes and aspirations included. Young people outlined how they wanted to contribute to society, be asked what they think and feel, be understood, trusted, listened to and have what they say matter.

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