Internal trafficking and exploitation of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) within England and Wales

Project Details


Children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) face increased risks of Modern Slavery. This study will provide quality evidence to address gaps in safeguarding policy and guidance, and wider domestic and international legal frameworks, which do not adequately support the identification of this group. Furthermore, current policy and guidance does not provide appropriate mechanisms for multi-agency planning and child protection responses.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 [MSA] covers two criminal offences of 'human trafficking' and 'exploitation'. Internal trafficking (within UK borders) comprises a significant and increasing portion of UK national statistics on human trafficking in the UK each year, particularly due to an increase in criminal exploitation of children. Children and young people with SEND not only have vulnerabilities as children, but they also have additional vulnerabilities due to impairments and issues including high levels of school exclusion, bullying and social isolation. These increased risks and vulnerabilities are often not well understood by multi-agency services who rarely receive training in protection of disabled children and young people. Thus, responses and requirements under the MSA rarely recognises these additional vulnerabilities and risks, addresses this group's needs, nor provides appropriate policy and practice responses. This group of children are often invisible to agencies, and signs and indicators of trafficking/harm can be missed or misattributed to an impairment. Such complexity often means that this group fall though gaps in services or between service provision - rarely receiving a holistic response which is tailored to meet individual and specific needs.

Through partnership and engagement with multi-agencies, families/care-givers and children and young people with SEND who have experienced trafficking and/or exploitation, this study will:

1) Identify gaps in relevant law, policy, guidance and evidence to support the better protection of children and young people with SEND in England and Wales who have experienced internal trafficking and forms of harm as identified under the Modern Slavery Act (2015).

2) Examine practice responses from the perspectives of practitioners and parents/carers and children/young people to better identify the risks, indicators and responses in cases of suspected, or known, trafficked and exploited children with SEND.

3) Consult with strategic and frontline multi-agency practitioners to better understand barriers and facilitators to improved policy and practice.

4) Develop specific outputs and legal, policy and practice recommendations that will support improved guidance and policy development for this group to meet their specific needs, and make recommendations to support improved policy and practice responses.

We are committed to ensuring that our research findings are effectively communicated to diverse audiences so that learning can be shared, and child protection responses can be improved. We will do this through our extensive network across multi-agencies, and within local and national government. We will present at events targeted to the practice, policy and academic communities, and the general public. We will use a variety of formats to communicate with different audiences, such as short briefings, blogs, podcasts and recorded webinars. This project addresses a longstanding problem in improving the protection of a group of children and young people who are at a higher risk of exploitation and other forms of harm.

Effective start/end date31/05/223/11/23


  • Arts & Humanities Research Council: £150,160.80

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


  • Modern Slavery
  • Child Criminal Exploitation
  • Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Child Trafficking
  • Missing Children
  • Looked after Children
  • Disability
  • Child Abuse
  • Child Protection
  • Child Safeguarding
  • Special Educational Needs and Disability
  • Childrens' Policy
  • Social Work Practice