Posted: 29 July 2014

Independent guardians for separated migrant children could save money

Every year between 2500 to 3000 children arrive in the UK alone without parents.  Many separated migrant children are seeking protection from persecution, war and violence. They may have been abandoned by, or become separated from, their parents or carers once outside their country of origin. They may also be victims of trafficking and exploitation.

Once here, they find themselves having to navigate hugely complex processes that have a significant impact on their life, like resolving their immigration status or accessing accommodation. Without one consistent carer that can oversee, co-ordinate and guide them through such processes, these vulnerable children can fall through the gaps in support.

As our new joint report Protecting children through guardianship: the costs and benefits of guardians for separated children with UNICEF UK finds, introducing a system of legal guardianship could save the UK money in the long term. Young migrant children need an independent guardian with legal authority. This guardian would support them to overcome language and cultural barriers and to know and access their rights by holding local agencies to account. You can also download the full report.

Our new analysis finds guardians are financially viable

Not only would a guardian have extremely positive benefits for the lives of vulnerable children, but our new cost-benefit appraisal (carried out by the Counter Human Trafficking Bureau (CHTB)) has found that setting up a guardianship service in the UK for all separated migrant children would be financially viable over the three year period examined.

Although there would be costs to set up the service, the expense of providing the service would be covered and, more importantly, it could save money for the public purse overall.

For every £1 spent on the service over three years, our analysis estimates as much as £1.25 in savings while a young person is below age 18. The savings increases to £2.39 for £1 spent once the financial benefits for separated children who reach adulthood (age 18) are factored in, such as improved decision making on their asylum and immigration cases and savings the Home Office would make in supporting these children.

This is because many separated children find themselves with no legal right to remain in the UK at 18 -  a guardian’s involvement is crucial at this stage. A guardian is one of very few people who could help ensure a young person is able to access legal advice, and could advocate on the young person’s behalf between different agencies to ensure their case is heard.

What are the biggest savings a guardian would create?

Based on data from existing guardianship and advocacy services across the EU and UK, our appraisal identified and analysed the costs of several areas where guardians would have a role in supporting separated children. These include the costs of:


• asylum and immigration procedures for the Home Office and local authorities
• judicial and administrative costs of wrongfully detaining trafficked children or children wrongly assessed to be adults
• missing children investigations by the police and local authorities  - two thirds of trafficked children go missing from care


Our appraisal found that overall a system of guardianship would cost around £45m over the first three years of introduction, but could bring about potential benefits totalling £107m – resulting in savings of as much as £62m over the first three years after it is introduced.  This table shows how the costs and benefits break down.

Table showing benefits

More work needs to be done on the Modern Slavery Bill

These costs are comparable to other European countries, such as the Netherlands and Scotland, who have a system of legal guardianship for all separated migrant children. It is vital that the UK follows their lead and also adheres to numerous international frameworks which clearly state the importance of guardians.


While the introduction of advocates for all trafficked children in the government’s Modern Slavery Bill is a huge step in the right direction, we believe it needs to go further and should include independent legal guardians for all unaccompanied children. We hope our analysis will inform the government’s thinking as the bill progresses through parliament.

Find out more

Read the summary, Read the full report

By Natalie Williams - Policy team
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