NYAS has given its backing to a campaign urging Home Secretary Sajid Javid to expand support for children who are separated from their parents and face serious risks of exploitation, abuse and other safeguarding concerns.

In a lobbying effort led by ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK) and The Children’s Society,  more than 40 organisations, including NYAS, UNICEF UK, the Refugee Council, Action for Children and the International Organization for Migration, have signed a letter appealing for the introduction of independent guardians for all separated, unaccompanied and trafficked children.

The letter comes following the publication of a report on child trafficking advocates as part of the ongoing review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Signatories, whilst welcoming many of the report’s recommendations, have highlighted the missed opportunity for the Modern Slavery Act review to look at the case for independent legal guardians for separated and unaccompanied children.

Stressing how important it is for Government to explore the issue further, the letter states:

“Following difficult journeys to the UK, separated children can struggle without a parent or carer. They are often required to navigate complex and difficult processes without anyone to act in their best interests, as we would expect a parent to do.

An independent legal guardian would be central to a child’s life, connecting them to all of the support they need, instructing solicitors on their behalf and representing their best interests throughout. A similar scheme already exists in Northern Ireland and Scotland; this vital protection is also much-needed for children in England and Wales.

Although they form a small proportion of children in care, separated children often fall through the gaps in statutory support, facing subsequent risks of mental health crisis, suicide and a high risk of going missing, which is also an indicator that they may be facing exploitation.  We are extremely concerned about the rate of self-harm and suicide among these young people…”

The organisations behind the letter are now pushing for Government to conduct a review into independent legal guardianship for separated children, alongside the wider Modern Slavery Act review.

Rita Waters, NYAS Chief Executive said, “As a leading children’s rights charity and provider of independent advocacy to children and young people, NYAS is committed to ensuring that the voices of separated and unaccompanied children are heard. These are some of the most vulnerable young people in society and it is vital that they are afforded the protection they need to prevent exploitation and ensure safeguarding. Urgent action is required on the Government’s behalf when it comes to the introduction of independent legal guardians for separated children and we will continue to join others in lobbying for change, until the issue is addressed.”