Home alone children at risk

Professionals working with asylum seekers and refugee families
need to ensure parents understand that leaving children at home
alone is not acceptable, a conference in Southampton heard.

Health visitor Agnes McMullen, who works for Southampton
Council’s homeless team, said that one of her biggest challenges
was educating asylum seekers about the child protection and legal
implications of leaving children unattended.

McMullen said: “In terms of child protection it’s the thing I spend
most time dealing with. It’s common for me to visit homes and find
children alone. Or Imeet people on their way into the town and ask
where their children are, and they tell me they are asleep.” She
added that when she asked who looked after children in their
country, parents said the people in their block or people in the
street keep an eye on them. “I have to explain that we’re not so
trusting in the UK, and certainly shouldn’t be that trusting in
houses in multiple occupation and also that it’s illegal here. It’s
a huge issue.”

McMullen also warned that many pregnant asylum seekers were facing
extreme hardship because of rules that mean that they are not
eligible for a maternity grant until they have been permanently
dispersed. Yet with the dispersal system now taking up to eight
months, many women were left to cope with a single National Asylum
Support Service grant of £50 for baby equipment and

Delegates at the conference criticised the difficulty of obtaining
milk tokens, worth £5 a week, for mothers who could not
breastfeed or who risked passing on HIV to their babies. But others
suggested that some parents who would normally have breastfed were
turning to bottle feeding simply to supplement their income.

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