Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by Voice

  Voice is a national charity committed to empowering children and young people in public care and campaigning for change to improve their lives. Voice provides community advocacy services on request to children and young people who are in need, looked after and who have left care and employs specialist advocates in asylum seeking children, mental health, disability and care leavers. Voice also provides visiting advocacy services to children's homes, the vast majority of secure children's homes in England, five psychiatric units and to young people sentenced to custody in one secure training centre and four young offender institutions.

  Voice is a member of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, the Children's Rights Alliance for England and the Refugee Children's Consortium. We fully endorse the evidence that has been submitted by them.

  Our additional comments focus on restraint in secure settings and asylum seeking children.

INDEPENDENT ADVOCACY FOR THE CHILD IN THE DEBRIEF FOLLOWING A RESTRAINT

  In addition to the comments on restraint made in the SCYJ and CRAE submissions we would ask the Joint Committee to urge the government to implement its recommendations about independent advocacy following restraint. In its response to joint independent review[565] into the use of restraint in secure juvenile settings, the government accepted the recommendation that if the young person wanted it an advocate should be present at the child's formal debrief and that establishments must notify an independent advocate of every restraint within 24 hours of the incident, which should then determine whether the young person wishes an advocate to be present at the debrief. In our experience, as acknowledged by the independent review, young people find it difficult to raise issues about restraint and it is critical that the establishment does in fact inform independent advocacy services so that they can them make contact with the young person.

GIVING ADVOCACY A STATUTORY FOOTING IN YOUNG OFFENDER INSTITUTIONS

  Advocacy was introduced in YOIs by the Youth Justice Board in 2003 but it has no statutory footing to exist in young offender institutions and could in principle be withdrawn. Underpinning the service by a strong legal status would assist advocates and their managers in feeling more secure when challenging institutions on those most controversial and difficult issues such as the use of restraint. Currently, our understanding is that the Governor of a YOI could refuse advocates access to the prison. This possibility can have an impact on advocates and managers when raising difficult and challenging situations with the institution.

ASYLUM SEEKING CHILDREN

  Issues arise from our practice that give cause for concern about the treatment of asylum seeking children by children's social care and the delays in implementing government policy.

Late Decisions

  Despite the promises of the New Asylum Model (NAM) that decisions will be made within six months from the date of asylum application many decisions take far longer than this and the deadlines for separated children are not met. Young people complain that they have to wait a long time for a decision. As we have mentioned previously this causes additional anxiety for those young people who have just arrived in the country.

Significant delays in decisions for applications to extend discretionary leave to remain (DLR)

  We have come across many care leavers over the age of 18 who have been waiting for as long as three years for a decision about their application for extension of leave. These young people are mainly on full time education or have completed their degree. Many have been issued with a letter stating that they will hear from the Home office by 2011.

Leaving care status

  Many leaving care services are unclear about what support to provide for unaccompanied asylum seeking children who are 18 plus and who have not received a response to their application to extend their DLR. At times, young people are given wrong advice and the leaving care team closes their case. This is a very complex area of law and the government stated that they would issue clear guidance about this in spring 2008. This has not yet been issued.

Case Study

  Helen came to the UK when she was 15 years old. She is now 21 and lives with two year old daughter in West London. Before her 21st birthday, she received a letter from the leaving care team stating that her case would be closed and she should go to National Asylum Support, despite her legal entitlement to receive support from them as a care leaver. Without the support from Voice and her solicitor, Helen says she could have been on the streets.

DL for UASC granted until the age of 17½ only

  We are concerned about new government policy to grant UASC Discretionary Leave for three years or up until the age of 17½ because most separated children and young people are extremely vulnerable and are still minors. Having to deal with their asylum application is putting further pressure on their mental and emotional health. This is exacerbated for those young people for whom the local authority has provided services under section 17 CA1989 and not section 20 which gives looked after status and hence greater support (see below). The purpose of this change in policy is to make the asylum process easier for young people and in our experience is not working.

Case study

  Ahmed arrived in this country having just turned 17 and was given only three months status. He has now turned 18 and is still waiting for a response from the Home Office. He was provided with services under section 17 and therefore does not qualify for careleaver status. He has been left to deal with a lot of these issues on his own. The promise of prompt decisions to make the process easier for young people has not been affective.

UKBA (formerly NASS) support to former minors

  We are very concerned about the UKBA dispersal policy in relation to those young people aged 21 plus who have been care leavers but who no longer have status as a result of pending appeals to the Home Office or a fresh application having been made. In our experience, support from the local authority leaving care team ceases when the young person turns 21, because this depends on their immigration status. Some local authorities follow the government leaving care guidance and administer the UKBA package on their behalf whereas other young people are handed over to UKBA and are dispersed. Most of these young people have been settled for many years in London area and are mainly attending full time education. It would be in the interests of young people if the UKBA and local authorities work together and come to an agreement so that young people can remain at their current accommodation and for support to be administered by the leaving care team.

Age dispute

  This is another area about which we remain very concerned. In our experience, UKBA staff are still making arbitrary decisions regarding the age of separated children. Often those young people claiming to be under the age of 18 are age disputed without appropriate assessment. According to the Refugee Council, some of these young people placed in hostels with adults. The government promised to set up a working party in 2008 to review best practice but to our knowledge this has not yet been convened.

Implementation of the Dublin II Convention—return to third country

  This Convention requires the return to the European country in which an asylum application is first made. We are very concerned about how this is implemented in relation to young people and consider that a welfare assessment should be made before return. A recent case highlights the need for the Dublin II Convention to be reconsidered. A young man, who was placed in foster care and was doing very well at school, was sent back to Italy. On his return he was not given any support. He ended up sleeping rough under a bridge in Rome.

Inadequate provision of local authority services to asylum seeking young people

  In our casework experience, there have been an increasing number of cases where children, mainly 16 and 17 year olds, are being supported under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 and not section 20. The implication of this is that these children do not gain looked after status, and the corresponding local authorities duties to them, nor do they acquire care leaver status on turning 18.

  This practice contravenes current Government guidance[566] which states there is a presumption that asylum seeking should be accommodated under section 20 unless the assessment reveals particular reasons why an alternative approach would be more appropriate. There have also been a number of High Court cases[567] that have considered this point and made clear that where the section 20 duty arises, local authorities cannot "finesse it away" by claiming to use a different power.

  Local authorities tell us that young person is independent enough, that their needs are being met or that they have a poor level of engagement with the service. We are also told that young people are choosing Section 17 support over that of Section 20. The young people may have some level of independence in cooking, cleaning and self care, however, they do not receive any support with their emotional needs, advice and support regarding their education and any additional financial benefits eg clothing allowance, travel expenses.

  It is very worrying that these vulnerable young people are denied services because of their poor level of engagement; this may arise because they suffer from poor mental health and emotional vulnerability. According to the Caerphilly judgment 2005[568] disengagement cannot be a reason for the local authorities to cease providing services. Moreover, the practice of local authorities asking children to select which level of support they require was ruled as unlawful by Mr Justice Holman in the Wandsworth case (see above).

February 2009










565   The Government's Response to the Report by Peter Smallridge and Andrew Williamson of a Review of the Use of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings, December 2008. Back

566   LAC (2003)13, Guidance on Accommodating Children in Need and their Families. Back

567   Hillingdon ruling 2003 (England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) 2075) and H & others v London borough of Wandsworth and others 23 April 2007 (England and Wales High Court (Administrative Court) 1082. Back

568   R J v Caerphilly County Borough Council (2005) Administrative court) 586). Back


 
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