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IMSA Model Development Project

Survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking are required to navigate complex systems, services and legislation at a time when they are most isolated and vulnerable. An Independent Modern Slavery Advocate (IMSA) works with the survivor to understand and navigate this landscape, while helping them to overcome barriers and empowering them to make informed decisions about their recovery. An IMSA is a trained expert who considers the survivor’s social needs and legal rights together.

The need for the IMSA Model Development Project

The National Referral Mechanism – Joining Efforts to Protect the Rights of Trafficked Person: A Practical Handbook states: “Adult victims of trafficking should have an allocated advocate to provide individual support, needs and risk assessment, and act as a co-ordinating focal point for all involved professionals and services. The role of the independent advocate should be a recognized professional role, accredited or officially recognized by competent authorities, national authorities, law enforcement authorities and statutory social services.”

Survivors of serious crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual abuse and stalking have access to accredited, dedicated professionals to advocate for them, working with them to navigate systems and services essential to their recovery. However, there is currently no standardised independent advocacy provision available to adult survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK.

The IMSA Model development project is a collaborative effort working to address this gap in the UK’s response to survivors of modern slavery. Led by Hope for Justice, British Red Cross, The Snowdrop Project and the Bakhita Centre for Research Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse, together with consultants with lived experience of modern slavery, this initiative offers a national, accredited model of independent advocacy.

“This programme is a great example of a collaborative approach that places survivors’ needs at the heart of it. The IMSAs’ advocacy work for victims and survivors of the most appalling crimes of modern slavery and human trafficking is so important. It is clear to me that listening to each individual and offering tailored and trauma-informed support are essential to their recovery journey; and equipping them with the right information along the way empowers them to overcome challenges and make decisions that are right for them. The IMSAs demonstrate a model that works, and it is essential that more victims and survivors have access to the programme.”

Eleanor Lyons, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

The Independent Modern Slavery Advocates (IMSA) Model development project was launched in 2021 and will be developed in three stages:

  1. The framework development (consultation and analysis)
  2. The pilot
  3. National roll-out of the final model

The framework development

The first stage of the development of the IMSA Model is complete. Extensive consultation with experts from across all sectors, and all UK nations, informed the content of the National Framework for Independent Modern Slavery Advocates ™, which was presented in September 2023 to all participating organisations (a full list can be found below).

An independent evaluation of the first stage of the project was undertaken by Dr Alexandra Williams-Woods of the University of Liverpool. The evaluation focused on the project methodologies, a content analysis of the data gathered and the involvement of consultants with lived experience of modern slavery.

The pilot

The second stage of the IMSA Model development commenced in Autumn 2023, and the project team were delighted to be joined by the Bakhita Centre for Research Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse, of St Mary’s University. The Bakhita Research team will lead the development and delivery of the accredited training for IMSAs, which will form part of a wider professional course and qualification for Independent Advocates, offering distinct modules for them to specialise in domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and modern slavery. This cross-sector qualification will strengthen the professional recognition of independent advocates, underpinning a more standardised service.

“The Bakhita Centre team are delighted to be part of the board for this innovative project. We have been committed to developing resources for professionals in the Modern Slavery Sector for many years. Being involved in developing and delivering the IMSA training is a perfect opportunity to build on this expertise.”

Carole Murphey, Director, Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse

The second stage of the IMSA Model development provides the opportunity to rigorously test the National Framework for Independent Modern Slavery Advocates, 2023 ™. This important stage in the model development will ensure that the final IMSA Model is one of best practice, suitable for use in all localities, in all 4 UK nations. The process of piloting the framework will ensure that the values and principles of the original model, as developed within Hope for Justice over the last 12 years, are maintained.

The IMSA Model offers a robust structure, developed in response to learning from other sectors, and comprises:

The IMSA Model - Independent Modern Slavery Advocacy

Copyright © 2023 Hope for Justice, British Red Cross, The Snowdrop Project and the Bakhita Centre for Research Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse. All rights reserved.

The pilot will entail testing the framework by embedding a qualified IMSA within organisations including NGOs, local authorities, NRM contracted or sub-contracted organisations, community groups and faith groups. The pilot will run from October 2024 to August 2027. Data will be gathered and analysed throughout this phase to ensure that expected outcomes for survivors are not compromised, as well as ensuring that learning about the impact of the model is captured and used to inform the final national IMSA Model.

Ways to get involved

During Stage 1, the consultation and drafting of the Framework, there was an overwhelming interest and support for the project. There is a tension between the huge need for this service and the importance of ensuring that it is proven and demonstrable best practice and achieves a standardised model. For individuals and organisations who want to get involved and support the project, opportunities will continue to arise, but at this stage some suggestions are to:​

  • train to become an IMSA within the pilot phase;​
  • work with the project team and/or MEAL team to undertake related academic research;​
  • employ an IMSA within your organisation;​
  • make a financial contribution towards the model development.​

The Project Team would be keen to discuss any input or support that individuals or organisations are able to provide. Please email advocacy.imsa@hopeforjustice.org and provide details about your area of interest and expertise. ​

IMSA Model Development Stage 1 participants:

National Framework for Independent Modern Slavery Advocates is Copyright © 2023 Hope for Justice, British Red Cross, The Snowdrop Project and the Bakhita Centre for Research Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse. All rights reserved.