Tuesday, 25th May 2021

This week, the government announced that the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) service has expanded to several new areas and is now accepting referrals in London (in addition to the Borough of Croydon where the service was already available), Essex, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Kent, Surrey, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol, and Lancashire. New interim guidance for the service has also been issued.

The service is now available in two thirds of local authority areas in England and Wales, meaning more trafficked children will access essential specialist support.

Critically, the government has announced it will be testing key improvements to the scheme recommended by the Independent Review of the service. These include:

  • Removing the current 18-month limit for ICTG support for all children across the country
  • Removing the cut off of support when a child turns 18 – this will be tested in London, West Yorkshire and Warwickshire
  • Allowing children who have a figure of parental responsibility in the UK to access one-to-one support where there is an exceptional need - this will be tested in Wales, the East Midlands and West Midlands Combined Authorities.

ECPAT UK welcomes these changes, which will enhance support and protection for vulnerable children. However, we remain concerned that the government has still not announced a timescale for full national roll out of the scheme, leaving significant numbers of trafficked children without specialist support.

Guardianship for trafficked children has been enshrined in law in England and Wales for over 6 years, yet roll out of the scheme has been patchy, meaning hundreds of young people faced a postcode lottery of support.

Guardians are provided to child victims of trafficking in recognition of their specific needs following the nature of the abuse they have experienced. Each child is provided with a consistent, trusted professional to help them navigate the complex and confusing processes they find themselves in, from immigration processes to the care system. Guardians advocate in each child’s best interests and help them access their rights.

The guardianship service is now available to children in Wales, Hampshire, Greater Manchester, West Midlands Combined Authority, East Midlands, London, Essex, West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Kent, Surrey, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire, North Yorkshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol, and Lancashire. First responders can refer a child to the service here.

Guardians for unaccompanied children

In England and Wales, only trafficked children can access support from a guardian, whereas in Scotland and Northern Ireland, guardians support both trafficked and unaccompanied children. This reflects 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 including The Children’s 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. Young campaigners from ECPAT UK and The Children’s Society recently held a parliamentary event, sharing their stories and why guardianship is important with parliamentarians.

With the government’s recent announcement that it will legislate to bring forward the proposals in its New Plan for Immigration, the need to fully expand the guardianship service is greater than ever, as trafficked and unaccompanied young people will face additional barriers to support, protection and stable futures.

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

Join our campaign


Press contact

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