Update: The Three Small Steps campaign is now closed. Thank you to everyone who played a part in the success of the campaign. ECPAT UK continues to campaign for guardianship to be implemented fully across the UK.

As part of its Three Small Steps campaign to protect child victims of trafficking, ECPAT UK is calling for a system of guardianship for child victims of trafficking in the UK.

What is a system of guardianship?

A system of guardianship would mean that every child victim of trafficking would have a guardian who would:

- have parental responsibility and provide care and support

- ensure the child receives the educational, medical, practical and legal support they need to help rebuild their lives

- help to prevent them from facing further exploitation or harm from traffickers

Why the need for a system of guardianship?

Child victims of trafficking are amongst some of the most vulnerable children in the UK and are of particular concern to ECPAT UK. In addition to having suffered physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse at the hands of their traffickers, child victims of trafficking find themselves alone in the UK without parents or legal guardians. The level and quality of support provided to them varies widely and is often found to be woefully inadequate.

In recent years, the UK Government has issued a range of guidance to ensure a higher level of support for child victims of trafficking. However, despite these developments there remains concern that there are substantial gaps in this system of support and that these children are not able to turn to any responsible adult for guidance through the welfare, legal and immigration processes.

The main gaps in the current system of support for child victims of trafficking in the UK include:

• No system of independent monitoring on matters involving safeguarding children who are victims of trafficking;

• A lack of protection caused by a combination of inadequate legal advice and representation, with children having to instruct their own legal advisers, and a lack of appropriate frameworks for decision-making on children’s cases;

• The absence of someone who can understand the wishes and feelings of children and ensure that all decisions are taken in their best interests;

• The absence of someone to coordinate all agencies working with individual children who are victims of trafficking and to ensure that their support and care needs are met.

ECPAT UK believes that a system of guardianship is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of child victims of trafficking. It will minimise the risk of child victims of trafficking going missing, assist in severing their links with traffickers, and provide a secure foundation to begin what, for many, will be a long and traumatic recovery. A system of guardianship is one that is supported by the young people themselves who recognise how a guardian could have impacted their lives for the better. Finally, it will ensure that the UK complies with the bold international obligations to which it has committed itself.

To find out more about guardianship, read our 2011 Watch over me report or our 2013 guardianship briefing.

The campaign for guardianship is part of our Three Small Steps campaign.