Memorandum submitted by the Refugee Children's
1. The Refugee Children's Consortium asks
that the Committee consider the needs of unaccompanied children
seeking asylum in their inquiry into looked after children. In
particular to examine how unaccompanied children's needs are met
by local authorities and the changes proposed by the Home Office
consultation paper Planning Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied
Asylum Seeking Children and subsequent reform document Better
Outcomes: the way forwardImproving the care of unaccompanied
asylum seeking children.
2. We also urge the Committee to make the
The Department for Children, Schools
and Families (DCSF) should have joint responsibility with the
Home Office, with the view in future to having full responsibility
for unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
A guardian should be appointed for
every unaccompanied child in the asylum process.
3. The Refugee Children's Consortium (RCC)
is a group of NGOs working collaboratively to ensure that the
rights and needs of refugee children are promoted, respected and
met in accordance with the relevant domestic, regional and international
4. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum
who arrive in the UK with no parent or adult carer are currently
looked after by local authorities in the same way as other children
in care. The Refugee Children's Consortium's memorandum highlights
the needs of this group of children within the care system. This
briefing sets out three areas of concern:
How unaccompanied children's needs
are met by local authorities and the changes proposed by the Home
Office consultation paper Planning Outcomes and Support for
Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children and subsequent reform
document Better Outcomes: the way forwardImproving the
care of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
That responsibility for children
seeking asylum should rest with the Department for Children, Schools
and Families and not with the Border and Immigration Agency.
The need for a guardianship scheme
for unaccompanied children.
5. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum
make up a significant minority of the looked after population
in England2,900 out of the 60,900 total looked after population
as at 31 March 2005. Indeed, Home Office statistics estimate that
as many as 5,200 unaccompanied children under 18 may have been
supported (ie looked after, accommodated or provided with leaving
care support) by local authorities in 2005.
6. The Refugee Children's Consortium starts
from the position that child refugees and children seeking asylum
are children first and foremost and must be afforded the same
rights and protection as any other child in the UK. We believe
that any proposals for this group of children must be judged against
international obligations, notably the Convention on the Rights
of the Child; and the Government's own standards, priorities and
outcomes for all children as set out in the Green Paper,
Every Child Matters (Cm. 5860, September 2003): to ensure
that all children are supported to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy
and achieve, make a positive contribution and enjoy economic well-being.
These outcomes should be the aspiration for all children regardless
of immigration status.
7. Currently local authorities have responsibility
to care for unaccompanied or separated children that arrive in
the UK. On 1 March 2007 the Home Office issued a consultation
document on Planning Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied
Asylum Seeking Children. This set out proposals to change
the way in which immigration and care arrangements are made for
unaccompanied children seeking asylum. The Home Office acknowledged
that there are no plans to take this group of children outside
the scope of Children Act 1989 duties. We believe this to be the
right decision as the Children Act 1989 remains the benchmark
legislation to meet the needs of all children.
8. The consultation paper proposed an initial
assessment of the child, and transfer to a "specialist"
local authority, which the Government states would ensure: access
to additional and enhanced services; consistency in approach across
local authorities; and more rational geographical distribution.
We believe that this poses a number of tensions with existing
essential duties placed on local authorities. These still need
to be resolved.
9. In January 2008 the Home Office published
Better Outcomes: the way forwardImproving the care of
unaccompanied asylum seeking children
which sets out how the Government intend to take forward reform
of arrangements to deal with unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
The Government identify their key reforms as follows:
Ensuring that the Border and Immigration
Agency, in exercising its functions, keeps children safe from
harm while they are in the United Kingdom.
Putting in place better procedures
for identifying and supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children
who are the victims of trafficking.
Locating unaccompanied children seeking
asylum with specialist local authorities to ensure they receive
the services they need.
Putting in place better procedures
to assess age in order to ensure children and adults are not accommodated
Resolving immigration status more
quickly and, in turn, enabling care planning to focus on integration
or early return to the country of origin.
10. The main reform of relevance to this
inquiry is the location of unaccompanied children seeking asylum
with "specialist local authorities". The Border and
Immigration Agency (BIA) is currently negotiating with local authorities
and the first wave of specialist local authorities are due to
begin to operate by Autumn 2008. The BIA will negotiate longer-term
grants (three to five years) with specialist authorities but service
specification and procurement details have yet to be finalised.
11. The RCC believes that whilst the immigration
status of a young person should not be ignored when planning their
care, we do not agree that care planning should be dictated by
that status. We do not object to a close working relationship
between a child's BIA caseowner and their allocated social worker
but stress that this relationship must fall within the code of
ethics that underpins social work in this country and internationally.
It must not compromise the codes of practice that each social
worker agrees to adhere to when registering with the General Social
Care Council or Scottish Social Services Council. The Refugee
Children's Consortium remains concerned that the principles of
the Children Act 1989 are adhered to alongside the processing
of the unaccompanied child's asylum claimfor example ascertaining
the child's wishes and feelings, and placing siblings together
so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with the child's
12. From April 2008, the BIA will take on
responsibility from the DCSF for funding for unaccompanied children
seeking asylum who are entitled to leaving care support in England.
Different arrangements apply in Wales and Scotland. Details of
the new financial arrangements are due to be published later this
year. The Government has found evidence that some local authorities
are supporting individuals who may be ineligible for support or
assistance under leaving care legislation, because of a misunderstanding
of how Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act
2002 could apply. This Act deals with the withholding and withdrawing
of support and assistance under a number of Acts, although it
does not prevent the provision of support and assistance to specified
groups including children. The Government will issue new guidance
later this year.
13. The Refugee Children's Consortium believes
that unaccompanied children should not be treated differently
than other children in the care system because of their immigration
status. The Refugee Children's Consortium would like clear statements
from Government that all of the welcome Care Matters agenda,
including improved leaving care support, will be provided equally
for unaccompanied children.
14. The Refugee Children's Consortium believes
that all children should be treated as children first regardless
of their immigration status. As such, responsibility for asylum
seeking children should rest within the DCSF and not with the
Border and Immigration Agency whose primary concern will often
be a child's immigration status, over and above their welfare.
This would be a step towards implementing the principle of non-discrimination,
one of the four leading tenets of the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child.
15. We are concerned about the development
of dual systems of care and supportone for citizen children
and one for asylum seeking, trafficked and other children subject
to immigration controls. An example of this is the new system
for unaccompanied children seeking asylum outlined above. It is
crucial that the DCSF takes the lead in policy for children seeking
asylum. As a first step the Government should establish a joint
unit between the DCSF and the Home Office, similar to that which
has recently been established between the DCSF and the Ministry
of Justice on juvenile justice issues.
16. At a recent evidence session to this
Committee, the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Ed Balls MP stated
that he would consider the views of the Committee on whether he
should have dual responsibility for this group of children:
Q58 Annette Brooke: May I come in on a related
issue? Joint working is a very big issue now. You have identified
joint responsibilities, but there are conflictsthis relates
back to the conventionsuch as over the rights of separated
asylum-seeking and trafficked children. I assume that your Department
has to be fully signed up to safeguarding the welfare of all children
in this country. How closely are you working with the immigration
authorities, given that they do not have such a commitment? We
know that not all children are getting as much protection as they
Ed Balls: My colleague the Minister for Children,
Young People and Families, Beverley Hughes, has been in close
contact with Ministers in the Home Office over that. Obviously,
consistent with the Government's wider approach to immigration
and asylum, we want to ensure that the education and welfare of
children are properly protected. We monitor that and are in discussions
with our colleagues about it. However, the overall framework for
that policy is a matter for the Home Secretary. We do not have
a joint responsibility on immigration and asylum.
Q59 Annette Brooke: You do not have a joint
responsibility for every child in this country?
Ed Balls: The areas where we have a dual
key policy responsibility are set out clearly in the Machinery
of Government document. However, in areas that fall outside those
responsibilities, but where the welfare of children is affected,
clearly we have an interest and we take an interest. I do not
have joint responsibility for immigration policy as it affects
the children of asylum seekers.
Q60 Annette Brooke: Do you think that it
is something you should be seeking?
Ed Balls: I should be very happy to listen
to the views of the Committee on that.
17. We urge the Committee to recommend that
the DSCF should have joint responsibility with the Home Office,
with the view in future to having full responsibility, for unaccompanied
children seeking asylum.
A GUARDIANSHIP SCHEME
18. The UNCRC General Comment 6 paragraph
UNHCR Handbook for Determining Refugee Status (para 182(2)),
and the EU Reception Directive (Article 19)
all call for the appointment of a guardian to effectively represent
the interests of the child throughout the asylum process and for
the duration of the child's minority.
19. The local authority as "corporate
parent" is neither legally equipped to exercise parental
responsibility nor adequately resourced to fulfil the effective
functions of a guardian as set out in the UNCRC guidance.
Valuable NGO agencies such as the Refugee Council Children's Panel
are no substitute for statutory guardianship. The case is more
compelling in light of the Home Office proposals in Planning
Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children,
such as the interviewing of children as young as 12. Guardianship
is especially needed if Specialist Local Authorities are put in
placewhere the local authority is funded by the Home Office
and is required by its relationship with the Home Office to play
a much more conflicted role, by fitting the child's needs around
those of the Home Office timetable, by acting as an immigration
officer in respect of reporting conditions by co-locating and
aligning social work and immigration functions, and being encouraged
to write pathway plans built on a strong assumption that the refused
child should be removed from the UK.
20. The RCC urges the Committee to recommend
that a guardian is appointed for every unaccompanied child in
the asylum process.
13 The equivalent strategy documents in Scotland and
Northern Ireland are Getting it Right for Every Child and Children
and Young People-Our Pledge: A ten year strategy for children
and young people in Northern Ireland 2006-2016, respectively. Back
COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003/9/EC laying down minimum standards for
the reception of asylum seekers Back