Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Letter from the Director Fairbridge, to the Clerk of the Committee

Further to our submission and oral evidence, I have just been reminded by the Archivist at Liverpool University that between 6 and 9 July various historians and scholars into child welfare, including child migration, are giving papers at a conference been held at that time. If the Members of the Select Committee wish to understand more fully the policies and reasons behind child migration this would be the place to acquire that knowledge. It has been planned for well over a year, and I understand that many eminent people will be participating.Also at the University of Liverpool from Barnardo's archives, NCH Action for Children Archives and our own there are minutes and correspondence of the Council of Voluntary Organisations for Child Migration for the period of 1951-65 which is, I believe, relevant to the present Select Committee. I realise that this is quite late into the whole procedure, but as Mr Dobson's hearing is on 9 July I thought it worth drawing your attention to the conference.Relating to our own evidence, I would like to clarify Fairbridge's position regarding a clearing house agency as I am not sure I properly articulated the reasons behind this.Fairbridge feels that an independent and neutral agency is essential to ensure that former migrants have the service and choice they deserve. At present none of the agencies working in the field are either, which includes the Child Migrants' Trust who have campaigned unstintingly for former child migrants. More importantly, though, is the fact that there are still people who are stateless—they have no documentation to prove their identity and appear unable to apply for citizenship for either Britain or their present code of abode.My recommendation to form a Government agency is primarily to enable the process of identity and reunification in the fastest, least traumatic way possible. No voluntary agency would have the authority or resources to communicate speedily with other Government Departments both internally and internationally. A Government agency would be in a position to call upon counselling and social services resources quickly whereas, again, no voluntary agency would have the authority. A government run agency would also have the added effect of tacit recognition, if not formal recognition, of child migrants which would go a long way to mitigating their sense of unfair and unconcerned treatment from those in authority. I hasten to add that I would envisage a multi-agency approach with the statutory body acting in a co-ordination function. This would not entail large resources but would ensure participation by all sending agencies.If such an agency ran an access data base, combining all names, dates of birth and sending agency concerned (which would be provided by the sending agencies) they would be able to offer a choice to former migrants quickly—such choice to include the child Migrants Trust and the sending agencies. It would also be Fairbridge's recommendation that resources to apply to sending agencies to ensure that they have the staff to enable the process of reunification. At present I do not think that any agency, except perhaps the Child Migrants Trust, whose sold raison d'etre is to advise and help former child migrants, have the resources to devote staff solely to the problems which arise from child migration. It would be fair to say that Fairbridge is in a different position to all other sending agencies as it was the Fairbridge Society not Fairbridge which was involved with child migration and Fairbridge now works with disaffected young people in inner cities in the UK. We do not have the resources to work with child migrants although we do as much as we possibly can, such as obtaining birth certificates, enquiring on behalf of former migrants from other agencies regarding records of relatives and sending files to former migrants on request for all of which we make no charge.I hope this has clarified Fairbridge's position. We would not wish to detract from the work undertaken by other agencies, and in particular the Child Migrants' Trust, but from the experiences of Old Fairbridgians reported to us here we do not feel that the Trust has the neutrality or confidence of many former Fairbridgians, which is fundamental to making it all happen.

17 June 1998

PS: I have just received a letter from David Spicer of the Child Migrants' Trust saying that the letter of agreement which they used to ask former migrants to sign is no longer extant* which does make the matter of exclusivity a lesser issue.

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