Examination of Witness (Questions 343-359)|
23 JUNE 2008
Q343 Chairman: I hope that the Committee
and our witnesses will allow me to do this. Can you hold there
for a moment? Di, will you go and sit next door to where you are
now? Could you just move along, and may I ask Lisa Nandy to come
and join us in the middle? Lisa, have you ever given evidence
to the Select Committee?
Lisa Nandy: Yes.
Q344 Chairman: I thought that the
answer was going to be no. It is a bit intimidating when you are
on your own, and members of our team may want to ask some cross-cutting
questions. Most of the questions in this session will be for you,
but the others can come in, if that is all right with you all.
We can now get started. Lisa, we have your CV. You know that this
is a double-bolted session, and we now want to look at the particular
situation of unaccompanied immigrant children. How much of a problem
Lisa Nandy: I suppose that it
depends on what you mean by "problem".
Chairman: A challenge.
Lisa Nandy: That is part of the
problem. This group of children are often seen as a problem that
needs to be tackled and solved. The Committee will be aware that
over the last few years a number of charities, including the 30
that I represent here today on behalf of the Refugee Children's
Consortium, have become increasingly concerned about the direction
of travel of law and policy relating to those children. We have
seen some huge improvements in the way in which children are treated
in terms of law and policy. Having listened to the three witnesses
who have just given evidence, we would certainly support what
they said about the improvements that the Care Matters
agenda will herald for looked-after children. What we have seen
in relation to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is, by and
large, that law and policy have gone in a different direction
for them, and that their asylum-seeking status has become the
overriding element that determines the way in which they are treated
and supported all the way through their time in the UK. It is
a time of huge change for this group of children and young people,
and a time of huge change in the Government's agenda for both
the asylum process and the care system. We are pleased that the
Committee has taken a particular interest in this at this time
because some huge changes are afoot, and the real fear is that
if we do not get it rightat the moment our view is generally
that this is not going in the right directionwe will have
to live with the consequences for quite a long time.
Chairman: Thank you.
Q345 Mr Chaytor: Lisa, it says here
that there were 3,300 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as
of 31 March 2007. Where did they come from and how did they get
Lisa Nandy: They come from all
over the world. There are a number of different countries that
they come from. Generally, those countries will follow conflict
situations, so top countries at present might be Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan.
We also work with a number of children who come from Eritrea and
Ethiopia. A number of children also come from countries like China
and Vietnam. I know that some of the Committee have been involved
in work on child trafficking. There a number of children who are
seeking asylum who have been trafficked into the country for the
purposes of exploitation. That is not to say that that is the
same for all of them, but it is sometimes also the case. The route
that they generally follow is that they are brought here by people
smugglers: somebody has paid money for them to be taken to a country.
Often they do not know which country. They might come in on planes
and be abandoned at the airport; they might come in on lorries
and end up being thrown out of the back of a lorry somewhere along
the side of a motorway. Often those children do not actually know
which country they are in when they arrive and they are left and
they first come to the attention of either an immigration officer
or a police officer.
Q346 Mr Chaytor: Are you saying that
the majority of them consciously leave their own country with
the intention of finishing up in the UK or somewhere in western
Europe, or are the majority being trafficked or smuggled?
Lisa Nandy: Not necessarily. The
point about trafficking is that we do not know how many children
it involves. Certainly, our impression is that the vast majority
of children in the asylum system are not children who have been
brought here for the purposes of exploitation; they are children
who are seeking a place of safety, although often those children
do not necessarily know much about the circumstances behind their
claim. We work, for example, with former child soldiers whose
family connections have helped to smuggle them out of different
countries. One of the things to say about this group of children
is that they are different from many children in the care system
and certainly the group of children that has been talked about
today. They do not come from those backgrounds or from broken
homes; they often come from fairly wealthy, what we would think
of as generally middle class, backgrounds in their countries of
origin. They have been caught up in political situations, often
because of their parents' involvement. One of the real difficulties
for this group of children in the care system is that the system
is not really constructed for children like that. The main barriers
to their achievement are very different factorsthings like
past trauma and particularly the impact that the immigration and
asylum system in this country has on them as they are growing
Q347 Mr Chaytor: Taking your point
about the need for children's services to get more involved or
to take a lead in terms of the processing of these children, what
is your real criticism of how the Border and Immigration Agency
deals with them? What are the real problems, by which I mean immigration
issues rather than children's services issues?
Lisa Nandy: The main problem is
that the UK Border Agency and children's services departments
and the Department for Children, Schools and Families come up
at this from completely different perspectives. Whereas the DCSF
and children's services departments have a remit to look after
the welfare and the best interests of children and that is clear
from the targets that particularly the DCSF has set for itself,
the UK Border Agency is a shadow agency of Government that is
primarily responsible for border control, security, fighting terrorism
and international crime, and it gets involved in all those issues.
It has a completely different set of skills and experience and
a completely different ethos. Leaving these children as the only
group, as far as we know, that is entirely outside of the DCSF's
remit means that their needs cannot be met because they are not
within a Department that is able to do that for them. A practical
example of how that impacts on children as they are going through
the care system is that last year in the UK Borders Act 2007 the
Government brought in a provision that unaccompanied asylum-seeking
children would be asked to report to immigration officers on a
regular basis for the duration of their time in the UK. That was
the stated aim of the Minister in bringing in that provision,
section 16. That has an enormous impact on a child, all the way
through their lifetime in this country, particularly as they are
growing up. They feel different from friends. Many of them are
absolutely terrified, having to go often quite long distances
to report. The experience of children aged 17 who currently have
to report is that it often happens during school hours, so they
have to come out of college to do it. That is a clear example
of a provision that is not necessary, where immigration control
has taken precedence over children's welfare.
Q348 Chairman: If a significant proportion
of the children are here through smuggling or trafficking, it
must be an immigration issue, must it not? It must be an issue
linked to crime also. How can it be taken away completely from
the UK Border Agency?
Lisa Nandy: First, it is really
important not to confuse the trafficking and the asylum issues.
Some of these children will have been trafficked into the country
for the purposes of exploitation, and may or may not still be
in that situation. Other children will have come here seeking
a place of safetyin our experience that is the vast majority.
In either case, we believe that children's welfare has to take
precedence over immigration control. What we have at present is
the exact converse of that situationimmigration control
takes precedence over children's welfare. We are not seeking to
take away the responsibility for immigration from the UK Border
Agencythat is what they do and they are the people skilled
at it. That responsibility should remain with them. We are saying
that the Department with responsibility for children's welfare
should be the Department for Children, Schools and Families, because
they are the Department able to do it. At present, as you will
know from our evidence, that arrangement is not in place. That
is a real problem for this group of children.
Q349 Chairman: What do Di, Chris
and Bob think of that argument?
Bob Ashford: I have to be quite
frank. It is difficult for them, but it is not my area of expertiseI
may have a view, but it would be a personal view and perhaps I
should not put it forward.
Q350 Chairman: A personal view is
all right. Should this very significant group of children be part
of the Children, Schools and Families remit or not?
Bob Ashford: Children, Schools
and Families must have some remit for this particular group of
young people. That should be the obvious starting point.
Dr Hart: For me, thinking about
Every Child Matters, we cannot say that every child matters
except for certain sub-groups. My personal opinion would be that
the welfare considerations need to be foremost, which does not
mean to say that other factors are not important as well.
Chairman: Chris is bursting to tell me
what he thinks.
Chris Callender: This takes me
back to last week, when I was sitting by my telephone. A social
worker from a young offenders institution rang me about a young
Vietnamese boy, who had been arrested, prosecuted and convicted
for production of cannabis. The story goes that he was locked
into a house where some, presumably, adults with other intentions
had been growing cannabis. He was found in this house, arrested,
charged, sentenced and was doing very well in custody. He could
hardly speak a word of English. Any time they wanted to communicate
with him, it had to be through an interpreter. He had just been
served deportation papers. The caseworker at the young offenders
institution had no idea of what to do with this matter. Actually,
if you dig deeper, the Crown Prosecution Service guidance would
have said that they should not have prosecutedagain, we
have questions about this access to justice. Was he properly legally
represented when he was prosecuted in this country and then placed
in custody? At great public expense, it perhaps ought to be addeda
comment made earlier by the Committee. There are huge concerns
about the delivery of this. I do not think that the UK Border
Agency is best placed to be making sure that the welfare of these
children is properly looked after.
Q351 Mr Heppell: Reading through
some of the evidence, I was very surprised to find that you are
talking about almost 5% of the children in care. That really surprises.
I did not think that it would be anywhere near that amount. The
other thing is that, in practice, what does the Border and Immigration
Agency do? When you read this stuff that they said in the Better
Outcomes paper, they talk about putting children in their
care with a specialist local authority. Are you saying that they
do not do that? That seems a logical link to me. You have these
children and you put them with someone who knows how to deal with
them. I cannot see how transferring the lead responsibility to
the Department for Children, Schools and Families would make a
Lisa Nandy: One of the proposals
in Planning Better Outcomes, which is the document about
the care of asylum-seeking children in the system and which is
separate from Care Matters in many respects, is to create
specialist local authorities. That system is not currently in
operation. Our view is that that is generally a positive move
forward, because there are a number of problems with how unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children are treated. One particular problem is
that they become the responsibility of the local authority that
they present in, which leads to a high concentration of young
people in some local authorities, particularly in port areas for
example. It also leads to another problem which is that you get
perhaps just one or two unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
in an area, who tell us that they feel isolated, experience racism,
have problems integrating with their peers and do not receive
the specialist services that they need. So, we think that that
system is a good idea. The danger, and there is a danger, is that
other local authorities will lose those skills and services. You
may have seen from our evidenceI am not sure whether we
put this in our evidence to this Committeethat around 85%
of children who claim asylum do so after arriving in the UK. They
do not claim asylum at port of entry. Often that is because, for
example, they have been brought into the country by an adult who
has accepted responsibility to care for them and then that placement
has broken down. Sometimes that placement has broken down because
the adult cannot care for them, or does not want to any more,
and sometimes because the child is in an exploitative situation.
Sometimes the child will claim asylum after that, because they
have a genuine protection need that was not met in the private
fostering situation. There is a problem with thinking that the
system of specialist local authorities will solve everything,
because it will mean that children who have been in an area for
some time and may be in school or college and may have formed
links and networks, or be undergoing specialist mental health
treatment, for example for past trauma, will have to move if everything
is concentrated in these specialist local authorities. It could
also potentially mean that local authorities do not realise when
children in private fostering situations in their area are being
exploited, because of that loss of skills. So, there are still
a huge number of things to work out regarding specialist local
authorities, but in general we think that they are a good idea.
We do not think that they are incompatible with the idea of the
Department for Children, Schools and Families taking the lead
for this group of children, because if it does not, you have the
Home Office negotiating a package of care for children with children's
services departments, with no involvement at all from the Department
for Children, Schools and Families. We think that that is a problem.
Q352 Mr Chaytor: Is there anything
in Care Matters that you think will improve the situation?
Lisa Nandy: Yes, quite a few things.
In theory, Care Matters should benefit this group of young
people as it does any other child in care, but there are a few
problems with that. For starters, one of the problems is the way
in which the system has been set up. The UK Border Agency is not
included in some of the measures to safeguard children. An example
is that it is not included in the section 11 Children Act duty
to have regard to children's safety and welfare when carrying
out its duties. We hope that that situation will be rectified
by this House in the Children and Young Persons Bill. At present,
clause 7 of that Bill makes the immigration service subject to
that duty. For example, in Care Matters there are a number
of reforms regarding safeguarding children, including some of
the duties on the local safeguarding children board. The immigration
service is under no obligation to take part in local safeguarding
children boards and that is a problem for us. There are things
in Care Matters that should be of benefit to these
children, but because of the way in which the system is structured
at present they tend to miss out. The other critical bit of the
jigsaw is that the document Planning Better Outcomes and Support
for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Childrenthe
blueprint, if you like, for the care of that group of childrenis
sometimes at odds with the proposals in Care Matters. To
give two examples, the Government are proposing that unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children in the care system should come out of
their foster care placements at 16. There is a deep-rooted suspicion
among several of my colleagues in the voluntary sector that that
is so that, at 18-years-old, if their asylum claim has failed,
it will be much easier to remove them from the UK. The second
example involves post-18 support. At the moment, there is a lottery
of support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children whose asylum
claims have been turned down. To be realistic, most children's
claims are turned down. Only 6% of children are granted asylum
on first application. At the moment, there is a lottery about
what sort of care they get, and some end up destitute. The Government
Q353 Chairman: But a very high percentage
get leave to remain, do they not?
Lisa Nandy: The system as it works
at present is that children are generally granted leave until
18, but at that point, most have to apply for an extension of
that leave, and there are no figures on how many of those are
Q354 Chairman: There are no figures?
Lisa Nandy: No.
Q355 Mr Chaytor: But in terms of
the section 11 duty, is that not the other way of looking at it?
Rather than making a wholesale transfer of primary responsibility
from the UK Border Agency to the local authority, is it not better
to beef up the UK Border Agency's responsibilities?
Lisa Nandy: What we would like
to see is a two-pronged approach. Responsibility for the welfare
of those children rests with the Department for Children, Schools
and Families, which has the expertise and the remit. Obviously,
that relies on close working with the UK Border Agency. In fact,
it would be interesting to hear from colleagues within the youth
justice field whether that has made a difference in terms of the
joint remit that exists now for children in the youth justice
system. The other thing that we would like to seein order
to counter the increasing number of powers given to the immigration
service by law and policy, and particularly to their private contractors,
because private contractors are increasingly used, who come into
regular contact with those childrenis a counterbalancing
trend in law and policy that says that those children's rights
and welfare will be protected. Section 11 of the Children Act
2004 is exactly the sort of thing that we think can do that, because
it means that when the immigration officer goes to pick up a child
at a port of entry, they must have the child in mind when they
carry out their duties. That is certainly something that the Immigration
Minister has said he would like to see, to promote culture change
through the agency.
Q356 Chairman: Lisa, you have thrown
the gauntlet down on that particular question. Does anybody want
to come back on it?
Dr Hart: I think that it has made
a difference having the joint youth justice unit, partly just
because of the message that it gives out about the concern of
children's social care and welfare services. I also think that
it has done something in terms of culture change. I know that
the youth offending teams and the Youth Justice Board are concerned
with welfare, but it is not their primary purpose, and I think
that the fact that DCSF has now been given a firm remit to concern
itself with the welfare of young offenders is having a knock-on
effect at local authority level.
Bob Ashford: It has made a huge
Q357 Chairman: Has it?
Bob Ashford: Yes. As I said earlier,
I think that the Machinery of Government changes have been positive.
Giving DCSF joint responsibility not just for the Youth Justice
Board but for youth justice has made a difference. As I always
say, with responsibility comes responsibility. The joint youth
justice unit is a vehicle by which officials work more closely
together on shared agendas. We canand we are starting topull
together some very good joint work between the Ministry of Justice
and DCSF. We must not forget, as well, that once we have a joint
unit there, we also have, as I have heard you do, very strong
links with the Home Office as well.
Chris Callender: Again, I think
that it is moving in the right direction, but it needs to be more
firmly focused. Also, I think that it is still not tried and tested.
I would like to see some stronger results and stronger lines coming
out, particularly on the sort of resettlement issues that I deal
Q358 Chairman: Does it strike any
chord with you? I heard you give your evidence originally when
we did prison education. The more you learn about prisons, the
more you hear everyone say that when people leave prison they
want the full package. If they go into homelessness, do not have
a job or skills, or no one has addressed their addiction, they
will be back pretty soon. When you were talking, I had the feeling
that it would be much cheaperSharon mentioned the cost
of all thisto give that full package to young people in
the care system who go into the criminal justice system. Do you
feel that it is a waste of resources not to give that full page
Chris Callender: Absolutely. I
think we must turn the clock back slightly, and this is where
I come back to my files. When I get social services files and
youth offending team files, I draw chronologies. I go back to
the date of birth and work forward, and then see all the signals
coming through. I see referrals to social services at the age
of two because a mother was dragging her child down the street
by the hair, and at the age of four Dad was banging the child's
head against the wall, and at the age of five there was screaming
and shouting. Then social workers knock on the door and ask the
mother how things are going, and when she replies "Fine,"
they say goodbye. Those signals hark back to the Victoria Climbié
inquiry and so on. I see that in the files that I read daily.
If we spent money earlier, we would not spend so much money later.
I drew attention to the SP inquiry. SP is now in a high-security
hospital, which is costing up to £400,000 a year. That was
unnecessary and did not need to happen. It is a full package,
but it could be introduced earlier, and the longer it is left
the more entrenched the difficulties and disadvantages and the
harder it is to make a change.
Chairman: You had better not answer that,
Di, because they will lynch me. Paul, we have come to the next
Q359 Paul Holmes: I cannot resist.
We have just spent two days in Copenhagen looking at how it deals
with this, and its answer to the problem that you highlight is
to take many more children into care a lot earlier than we do.
Is that the answer?
Chris Callender: Yes, as long
as you are not casting me as some sort of imprisoner of children
by different means.