Social workers failed to take any action to protect two five year-old-boys, engaged in sexual activity at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre last year, because they felt they were too young to know what they were doing, according to an independent report by Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Children Board.
The report criticised the social workers and local authority managers engaged on the case, which occurred in September 2009, for their failure to act which, it claimed, was based on a belief that the children could not be subject to criminal charges because of their age. The social workers misunderstood the concept of “consent”, believing that such young children could be consensually involved in sexual activity, the report concluded.
The social workers were also condemned for failing to investigate later allegations that one of the children involved had been the subject of further sexual assaults by the older siblings (aged 15 and 11) of the other boy.
Malcolm Stevens, director of JusticeCare Solutions and a key advisor to Ian Duncan Smith’s Conservative think-tank the Centre for Social Justice, said the review showed the urgency of ending child detention for immigration purposes.
“The report is exceptionally critical of all agencies and represents the whole system failure around children in Yarl’s Wood,” he told Community Care.
“There’s not a single positive thing in that report and that means there’s now even more urgency to remove children from detention.
“It’s no wonder the government wants to take children out of these centres.”
As well as the social workers from the local authority, the report criticised those from the independent social work service provided for children in detention who, the report said, did not challenge the local authorities’ conclusions about the case.A spokesperson on behalf of all the agencies who are members of the Bedford and Central Bedfordshire Safeguarding Children Boards said: “We consider the care and safety of all children in Bedfordshire to be our top priority.”
The UK Border Agency, police and SERCO, which operate removal centres in the UK, were also slammed for their handling of the case.
Both families involved have left the country since the incident took place.