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Children in Scotland: life after trafficking

The newly published study, looks at what constitutes sustainable support over several years for young people following experiences of child trafficking.

Published: 25th July 2023

Over the past 18 months, University of Stirling researchers have been carrying out research with young people supported by the Scottish Guardianship Service. The newly published study, looks at what constitutes sustainable support over several years for young people following experiences of child trafficking.

Nineteen young people aged between 17 and 24 years took part in interviews, most of whom had been in the UK for between three and five years, although some had been here much longer. The study also drew on interviews with practitioners and data from the Scottish Guardianship Service over the past decade.

Here, three young people who participated discuss aspects of support that were particularly important to them. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity, but all words are their own. These examples reflect the broader findings of the study: that recovery following experiences of child trafficking is a long-term process, and that securing physical safety and freedom from exploitation is only the starting point.

Initial support and rebuilding life

The majority of young people told us that the early stages of receiving support could be difficult. Adam is currently studying and has big plans for his future, including work, creative activities and the role he would like to play in helping other people. He recalls when he first arrived in the UK how confusing things felt:

In the first time, it’s very hard. Even they come, like, the social worker, they say to you something, you don’t understand them, they come…there’s a lot of different people.


Many young people told us they find being asked questions about their past painful, especially about the reasons they came to the UK and their experiences of exploitation. Adam recalls the interviews with the solicitor for his statement for the Home Office were particularly difficult:

I explained to her everything about my statement. It was a very hard time because I had a bad time in [the conflict in my country of origin], I lost a lot of friends. … Sometimes if you don’t want to remember, they push you to remember.


Adam also emphasises the importance of ‘keeping busy’ and having a routine, such as school or college, because otherwise young people have ‘too much time’ to think about the past.

If they go to school, everything is fine. They learn some language and they make friends. … If they just for the wait for the school for five months or six months, it’s very hard. ... […] If they keep them busy, if they give them school or help them like family, this is good. It’s very important.


Accommodation and family care

A second important aspect of support young people focused on was accommodation: foster carers, host families, residential care workers, keyworkers and support workers all play a vital role. Binh has lived in Scotland for three years, having arrived aged 17. He is a determined student and currently lives in accommodation close to his college, but for most of the first two years he lived with a host family arranged through the local authority:

I regarded them as my family, if I had any news and anything I would discuss or talk to them. Even when I moved out if I need any help they would be there and helped me.


Thinking about the kind of things his host family had done that he found helpful, he adds:

If I list all those things maybe you don’t have time to list all those things. They just give me an opportunity to be familiar with the life here, to settle down. They send me to see [a health professional] and to do other things a lot.


Binh keeps in touch with his host family and goes back for visits. Sometimes he cooks food for them from his country of origin. He likes to joke with Dave, the male carer, who has taught him Scottish slang.

Being heard and building trusting relationships

A third component many young people talked about was how crucial it was to feel that professionals took time to get to know them, listened carefully and remembered things young people told them.

Amira received leave to remain a few years ago. She has a busy job, active social life and several hobbies she enjoys. These days she has less contact with support services. But she remembers clearly how difficult it was in the early days to open up to people, particularly after some early interactions with professionals who had little experience of working with separated children or knowledge about the needs of Black children. She recalls her first experiences with the Guardians as a ‘glimmer of hope’:

Like everything else, it did take time. …. But I felt a lot of warmth coming from the Guardianship project, as soon as I met them.


She explains that at the time, the impact of trauma and the stress of trying to navigate the asylum process and adjust to life in Scotland made it difficult not only to articulate but even to formulate her own thoughts about her experiences:

So when someone sits you down and says, how are you feeling, you don't know how you're feeling, because you don't know. … I felt like there was this patience to let me unravel whatever was going on, you know.


What also helped was seeing professionals were listening carefully and thinking about what she told them:

You know, even the most minor of things, it's like, how can I fix this, you know. Them going out of their way to make sure you're okay.


In addition to interviews, some young people took part in creative workshops as another way to share their perspectives and feelings on their lives now, some time after their initial experiences of support. We will share this in the Autumn on the Modern Slavery PEC website.

Dr Maggie Grant, Dr Maria Fotopoulou, Scot Hunter, Professor Margaret Malloch, Dr Paul Rigby

We would like to thank Adam, Binh, Amira and all the other young people who took part in this research. We recognise that since arriving in Scotland you have been asked personal questions many times, and how difficult that can be. We really appreciate you speaking with us about your experiences of support and what you think is important for people to understand about working with other young people in similar circumstances. Thanks also to Nadia Stuart from Scottish Guardianship Service for supporting young people to participate in the research.