Asylum policy ignores child welfare

Ravi Chandiramani
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's a bit much to expect governments to demonstrate consistency. As of last week, under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, UK Border Agency staff have a duty to consider and promote the welfare of children when exercising their functions. That's a welcome and long-anticipated development.

And yet the Home Office, without any consultation, has just sneaked through changes to how asylum claims are processed that fly in the face of child welfare. Failed asylum seekers who initially made their claim before March 2007 have to attend a "further submissions unit" in Liverpool after making an appointment in advance, whereas before they could do so by post.

Their travel costs will not be met, for families there is no consideration about disruption to a child's education and there is no guarantee they will not subsequently be placed in a detention centre. It is therefore hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that this is designed to prevent people trying to re-apply for asylum. While the government insists claims made in person minimise fraud, it is in fact likely to force more families underground, bringing up children in unsafe conditions.

The further submissions policy has a "guilty-until-proven innocent" whiff about it. But people re-apply because new evidence comes to light to support their case, or because the situation in their country of origin has changed, meaning if they return they risk persecution. Children should be spared these life-scarring ordeals. The Liverpool centre threatens to make a mockery of Section 55.

Cuts in Nottinghamshire

A worrying sign of the times emerged in Nottinghamshire last week. As first reported on cypnow.co.uk, the council is pumping an extra £1.7m a year on child protection services and £3.1m for specialist care placements. That's understandable, given it has experienced a 43 per cent surge in referrals of children at risk and a damning Ofsted safeguarding spot check. But to pay for it, the youth service, Connexions and play work have to swallow significant cuts. Money is even reduced for teenage pregnancy services.

Councils have to find savings somewhere in the present climate. But shifting resources from early interventions and developmental work to crisis interventions will perpetuate the false economy in children's and young people's services. Let's hope this is not a pattern replicated across the country.

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