Tuesday, 9th March 2021

The government has announced that the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) service will be expanded to more parts of England in late Spring. The service is currently operational in one third of local authority areas in England and Wales, and will be expanded to cover two thirds of local authorities. The announcement follows a statement last year that the ICTG expansion would take place in January 2021 as part of the NRM Transformation Programme and includes a commitment to testing implementing three recommendations made by the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

ECPAT UK welcomes the expansion of the scheme, which will provide more trafficked children with vital specialist support across the country. We also welcome the testing of key improvements to the service recommended by the Independent Review which mean more focus on individual needs: removing the current 18-month limit for ICTG support and the cut off of support when a child turns 18 are both vitally important for children’s protection and recovery. Importantly, the government has removed the automatic bar to accessing one-to-one support for children with a figure of parental responsibility in the UK, although this will only apply in cases where there is an ‘exceptional need’.

We remain concerned that the government is yet to commit to a timescale for full national roll out, almost 6 years after it was enshrined in law – leaving many children without this specialist support.

Guardians are provided to child victims of trafficking in recognition of their specific needs following the nature of the abuse they experience. Under the service, each child is provided with a consistent, trusted professional to help them navigate the complicated, stressful and confusing processes they may find themselves in – including immigration processes and the care system – advocating in the child’s best interests and helping them access their rights.

Guardianship is currently available to children in a number of ‘early adopter’ sites, including Hampshire, Greater Manchester, West Midlands Combined Authority, East Midlands, the London Borough of Croydon and Wales.

From late spring 2021, the scheme is reported to be extended to the rest of London, Essex, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Kent, Surrey, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol, and Lancashire.

In England and Wales the services is only available to trafficked children. By contrast, in Scotland and Northern Ireland guardians support trafficked and unaccompanied children, in recognition of guardians’ value in both preventing trafficking among unaccompanied children and identifying those who have already been exploited but have not yet felt able to tell anyone.

Because of this, ECPAT UK and partners across civil society are calling for guardianship to be extended to all unaccompanied children as well as those who have been trafficked. The campaign has the support of a group of 43 cross-party MPs and a number of leading academics.

Patricia Durr, Chief Executive Officer of ECPAT UK, said:

“We welcome the expansion of the guardianship service to more parts of the country and the removal of some of the current restrictions to accessing it, particularly for those turning 18, which will have a positive impact on many victims of child trafficking. However, we urge the government to set a date for the full national roll out of the scheme, having committed to this many years ago. This unacceptable delay is leaving countless children without the support they urgently need.

“Official reviews and feedback from young people consistently show that having a guardian has a hugely positive impact on trafficked children. Through our work with young people, every day we see the positive impact guardians have on those who can access this support. For young people who live outside of the early adopter sites, it is charities like ours who must fill the gap in support.

“Trafficked and unaccompanied children have been hit hard by the pandemic and subsequent reductions in support. There has never been greater need for each child to have specialist support. We urge the government to make sure all trafficked and unaccompanied children can access a guardian by fully implementing the scheme across the country.”

Take action today – ask the government to provide all trafficked and unaccompanied children with a guardian by joining our stable futures campaign


Press contact

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