Love in action

Young people with experience of child trafficking and exploitation
Tuesday, October 18, 2022

We are young people who have experienced child trafficking and exploitation. Since we were trafficked to the UK, we have had contact with many systems and professionals, including the immigration and social care systems, police, lawyers and healthcare workers.

‘The Voice of the World’ by ‘TB’, ECPAT UK youth programme member
‘The Voice of the World’ by ‘TB’, ECPAT UK youth programme member

Each person who works to help unaccompanied young people can make a difference to how those young people feel by demonstrating love. We wanted to share with professionals the fundamental importance of love to all of us, and our understanding that love is a doing word that we can all show in our actions.

We want social workers and personal advisers to know that…           

Unaccompanied young people already have too much to think about. We’re worried about finding a home and the prospect of being homeless. We’re concerned about practical things like finding phones or laptops. We don’t know whether we’ll have access to education, healthcare or training.

That’s why we need the social workers to take action. For some of us, it feels as though the people who are there to support us only write things down, instead of doing the things we need them to do. Rather than talking about the possibility of therapy, help ensure I’m referred to a therapist. Following up on promises and making real progress shows us that you care, and that we are cared for – it’s an act of love.

We also need social workers and personal advisers to help us make good decisions – to guide, support and involve us in the process of shaping our future. This includes connecting us with other sources of support and wellbeing, like youth groups and activity programmes.

We want healthcare professionals to know that…

For unaccompanied young people, mental health support is critical. So many of us need access to care for our mental health, and some of us need it to be specialised support. When we are facing mental health challenges or suffering from poor mental health as a result of our experiences of trafficking and exploitation, it makes it impossible to heal, recover and rebuild our lives. It is so much harder to establish routines, protect our physical health, undertake education or training, maintain relationships or care for our children. We need healthcare professionals to make swift referrals so that we can access the mental health support we need.

We can also only find the help we need from the healthcare systems if we can communicate with professionals about our problems. For this, we need well trained interpreters who speak our languages, and who allow us to explain accurately what we are feeling. Supporting us to communicate and take care of our physical and mental health is an act of love – it’s helping us build the foundations for our futures.

We want lawyers to know that…

We are new to the legal and immigration systems in the UK, and we are not trained professionals. We rely on them entirely to guide us through a complicated and confusing process that will determine how we live the rest of our lives. This is why we so desperately need them to provide good quality support at all times. We need good representation with the Home Office and in court, we need good advice when we’re making decisions about our futures, and we need you to fight for our causes and make an appeal when we should be battling harder for our rights.

We feel loved and supported by our lawyers when they make it clear they haven’t forgotten about us – when they make us feel like we’re working as part of a team, when they keep pushing the Home Office for a decision, when they make time for updating us on our case, when they understand our stories by providing an interpreter, and when they show us they have our best interests at heart. We want our lawyers to know and remember that it is professional to show compassion.

We want foster carers to know that…

When young people turn 18, they don’t become a different person – an adult who doesn’t need any support at all. For many of us, age categories determine the kind of care we receive. Some of us have been treated like strangers by our foster carers as soon as we turn 18. New rules for interaction are introduced, and we are no longer included as part of the family.

We need foster carers to remember that 18 is merely a number, and it comes to describe us in the space of a single day. Care for us by continuing to show love once we reach ‘adulthood’, and by treating us as a member of the family, not just a job. Feeling loved means we can grow into adulthood properly, and ourselves show love for others as we move through the world.

This article was written by the young people who participated to the Creating Stable Futures research, led by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute of Applied Social Research, in partnership with ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking). The final research report is published available here.

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