Wednesday, 11th November 2020

The Home Office and research institute Ipsos Mori have published the results of their assessment of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) service’s Regional Practice Coordinators (RPC) role, which was created following the government’s changes to the ICTG service in October 2018. ECPAT UK welcomes the report’s findings, including the positive impact of RPCs on child victims of exploitation and the professionals supporting them. However, we urge the government to immediately roll out the ICTG service across the country so that it is available to all who need this essential support.

ECPAT UK has long called for guardians to be provided to all trafficked children and campaigned to ensure the introduction of guardianship in law under the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015. Under the ICTG service in England and Wales, guardians provide vital support to child victims of exploitation – advocating for children’s best interests in the criminal justice, care and immigration systems, providing specialist expertise on child trafficking and giving children a consistent, trusted adult they can rely on in their recovery.

Following an evaluation of the ICTG service in July 2018, the government changed the scheme to provide a different type of support to child victims with existing support networks in the UK, acknowledging their unique needs. The RPC role was created to encourage multi-agency support for children identified or suspected of being victims of exploitation who have a figure of parental responsibility in the UK.

Unlike direct worker guardians, who are still provided to children with no figure of parental responsibility in the UK, RPCs do not provide direct support to children; instead working with the professionals supporting them.

ECPAT UK welcomes the findings of this review but highlights that this change in the model of guardianship in England and Wales has not been evaluated to assess its actual impact on children. Unlike the previous evaluation of the ICTG service, there was no attempt to measure whether this new role improved children’s futures in terms of their immigration, social care and other outcomes.

We are also concerned about the apparent dilution of the ICTG service before its full national rollout. Additionally, we’re concerned that children in care might not be allocated a direct worker if it is deemed that the local authority has parental responsibility for them. This would deny the child support from a direct worker who can advocate for their wishes and act in their best interest in all matters that affect them.

Key findings

The assessment analysed the characteristics of children impacted by the new RPC role, finding:

  • One third of all children referred to the ICTG service were supported by RPCs since the introduction of the role.
  • Three quarters of all children supported by RPCs were potential victims of criminal exploitation; almost all other children were potential victims of sexual exploitation.
  • 90% of children supported by RPCs were UK nationals.
  • 70% of children supported by RPCs were boys.
  • 76% of children supported by RPCs were aged between 15-17 years old.
  • Almost all (98%) boys referred to RPCs were potential victims of criminal exploitation, while 80% of girls referred to RPCs were potential victims of sexual exploitation.

The assessment also looked at the new RPC role’s effectiveness and impact on both children and the professionals supporting them, finding:

  • RPCs help upskill local authority workers on responding to child exploitation by providing awareness-raising sessions on indicators of child exploitation, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process and how to respond appropriately to children who have been exploited. Some social care, youth offending and police teams reported increased awareness of CCE indicators and how to support child victims.
  • RPCs were able to adapt their role to the needs of the children and professionals in their area, but generally they support professionals working with children by co-ordinating multi-agency responses, confirming when children show indicators of exploitation, advising on appropriate support to meet the child’s needs, supporting frontline staff throughout criminal proceedings, collecting or reviewing information for NRM referrals and providing a link between the ICTG service and other agencies charged with a child’s care and support.
  • Direct workers reported that the introduction of RPCs had increased their capacity which enabled them to spend more time with the children they work with. The assessment found the role had a clear positive impact on children by identifying gaps in provision for child victims in their area and helping to strengthen the safety net.
  • The independence and perceived impartiality of RPCs helped to build trust with agencies, however some local authority teams’ were reluctant to engage with RPCs due to perceptions of being scrutinised, and difficulties around working with police forces where there was a lack of understanding about CCE and the NRM. Tight resources and high turnover within local authorities also reportedly limited professionals’ uptake of RPC awareness-raising sessions. There was also room for improvement around awareness-raising of the statutory defence for child victims of exploitation, although some impact was demonstrated.
  • There were also some concerns that certain children’s needs could not be met by RPCs as they do not work directly with children.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said:

“ECPAT UK welcomes the positive impact of the new RPC role on children affected by exploitation. However, we remain deeply concerned that the ICTG service is only available in ‘early adopter’ pilot sites across England and Wales, leaving two thirds of children without access to this vital support over five years after guardianship was enshrined in law. To make matters worse, the government has still not committed to a timeline for fully rolling it out across the country. This isn’t good enough.

This assessment is a step forward to ensure we are striving for the best outcomes for trafficked children, but we remain concerned that children in care may not access direct workers. We call on the government to urgently follow through on its promises to some of the most vulnerable children in the country and make sure every child who needs a guardian can access one. Now more than ever, vulnerable children need this support.”

Our stable futures campaign calls on the government to immediately roll out the ICTG service to all trafficked and unaccompanied children in England and Wales, in recognition of guardians’ ability to both support trafficked children and identify unaccompanied children who may be unidentified victims or at risk of exploitation.

Add your voice to our stable futures campaign and demand the government follow through on its promises to trafficked children


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 07402 113 985