Monday, 17th August 2020

Last month, the Home Office announced that from January 2021, it plans to expand the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) service to more parts of England. However, ECPAT UK remains concerned that five years after being enshrined in law, the scheme is yet to be fully rolled out – leaving the majority of child victims of trafficking unable to access this vital support.

In recognition of the specific needs of trafficked children and the nature of the abuse they suffer, the ICTG service, currently operational in Wales and a number of pilot sites in England, provides an independent, trusted adult with specialist knowledge to support each child victim of trafficking through the many complex services they encounter in the UK and help them access their rights.

Despite being enshrined in law since 2015, the service has yet to be fully rolled out across the country – creating a postcode lottery of support and leaving the majority of child victims without a trusted adult to advocate in their best interests.

Additionally, the government has yet to publicly commit to a timeline for fully rolling out the guardianship scheme across the country – leaving support provision in England not only lagging behind Wales, but behind Scotland and Northern Ireland, where all trafficked and unaccompanied children can access a guardian.

If plans go ahead for the new pilot sites to become operational in 2021, the nationwide roll out of the scheme looks set to be even further delayed.

Guardians needed more than ever

Having a guardian has been shown to keep trafficked children safe. An independent review of the guardianship service found that having a guardian helps reduce children’s vulnerability to going missing from care and being re-trafficked.

As seen during the pandemic, in times of crisis children need more support than ever and it’s more important that they have a trusted adult to stay in touch with them, ensure they are accessing the support and care they need, and advocate for their rights and needs.

During the Covid-19 crisis, looked after trafficked and unaccompanied young people have been disproportionately impacted by government measures. Many lost the support systems they rely on as social care regulations were relaxed and those unable to get online were completely isolated.

This left charities to try to plug gaps in care; from mental health support to help with getting online, chasing delayed subsistence payments and navigating immigration appointments.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said

“If all trafficked young people had a guardian, as the law says they should, they would be much less vulnerable to further abuse, re-trafficking and going missing.  The need and the risks have become more apparent than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic as support has fallen away.

“There is simply no justification for delaying the roll out of this service for five years, leaving hundreds of vulnerable young people without a service that has been shown to keep them safe and help them recover and build stable futures.

“Many trafficked young people don’t have a parent or adult family member to help them navigate the incredibly complicated criminal justice, social care and immigration systems they find themselves in. It is inexcusable that that whether or not they can access a guardian continues to depend on the part of the country they are in.

“Rather than continuing to restrict the service in this way, we want to see it extended to all trafficked children as well as all unaccompanied children who we know are particularly vulnerable and are often unidentified as victims of trafficking.”

Academics, parliamentarians, charities join young people’s call for guardianship

Young people and their advocates have consistently highlighted the need for guardianship. In March, a group of 43 cross-party MPs wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel calling on her to act on the government’s commitment to child victims in the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015 – legislation which provides for all child victims of trafficking to have an independent guardian.

The MPs expressed concern that the provisions in the Act had still not been implemented five years on – echoing a group of leading academics who called on the Home Secretary to roll out the guardianship service to all trafficked and unaccompanied children earlier in the year.

These two open letters follow previous calls from a group of 45 organisations including high profile NGOs including ECPAT UK, The Children’s Society, UNICEF and the Refugee Council and professional children’s guardians, social workers and children’s rights advocates.

Georgina*, a survivor of child trafficking and member of ECPAT UK’s youth programme, explained how vital this service is for her:

She helps me for everything. She helped me about hospital appointment, GP appointment, referring me to right people to get extra support, she helped me with immigration case, sending lots of emails and reports to social services etc. She is the most helpful person.

Take action for trafficked children today:

1) Ask the government to provide all trafficked and unaccompanied children with a guardian by joining our stable futures campaign

2) Tweet or email your MP asking them to raise this issue with the Home Secretary


Press contact

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