Children with disabilities were inappropriately detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, the chief inspector of prisons has found.
One child who had multiple severe learning disabilities needed one-to-one care, Community Care has learned. Another child was also learning disabled.
A report on the Bedfordshire centre by Anne Owers published today said inspectors were “dismayed” to find that disabled children were detained. The inspection also raised concerns about the increasing length of time children were held, in some cases for more than two months.
Children’s behaviour “deteriorated” during detention. They became withdrawn, suffered panic attacks, lost their appetite and their sleep was disrupted.
Children staying more than a few days received an unsatisfactory education and there were few activities outside school hours.
Escort vehicles with caged compartments were also being used “inappropriately” to transport children, the inspection in February found.
Owers said she was not confident in the systems used to monitor of the length of time children were detained, and called for them to be held only in “exceptional circumstances” and for the shortest time necessary.
While detention policy stipulates that regular reviews must be carried out, the reviews “very often maintain the situation as it is”, Owers told Community Care. “Any detention is likely to be traumatic for children, and the longer it is sustained, the more traumatic it gets.”
Social worker appointed
Owers’ report followed previous concerns about the welfare of detained children at Yarl’s Wood. In 2005, an inspection found the case of an autistic child who had not eaten properly for four days, and three other children who had been detained immediately before their GCSE exams.
In line with the inspectors’ recommendations, a social worker was appointed at the centre in 2006 to carry out independent welfare and needs assessments.
Owers’ report today said the social worker had carried out her “difficult role” effectively and that a second social worker was being appointed.
Promote children’s welfare
A UK Border Agency spokesperson said most children were detained only when their parents had tried to frustrate the removal process, and claimed the majority were held for a week or less.
“We’re determined to treat children within our immigration system with fairness and compassion,” she added.
As part of the forthcoming Immigration and Citizenship Bill, the government has pledged to place a duty on the UK Border Agency to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.