Social workers ‘deeply concerned’ by Home Office guidance on assessing Calais camp children

Social work bodies object to immigration officials being asked to lead best interests interviews

An aerial photo of the Calais camp being cleared (Invicta Kent Media/REX/Shutterstock)

Social workers have voiced “deep concerns” over government guidance which allows UK immigration staff to lead assessments of asylum seeking children from the Calais refugee camp.

The Home Office guidance sets out how caseworkers should apply section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 in France in order to identify and assess children who are to be transferred to the UK. It is time limited to the period of the Calais camp clearance operation.

As part of the eligibility process for transfer to the UK under section 67, it must be determined that the move is in the best interests of the child.

The guidance says that the assessment of a best interests determination should “wherever possible” be led by a social worker but also allows for UK visa and immigration officials (UKVI) to lead interviews if “operational constraints” prevent a social worker being used.

In those cases, a social worker should review the information collected by the immigration officials before making a recommendation on the child’s best interests, the guidance adds.

In a joint statement issued last night the British Association of Social Workers, the Social Work Action Network and Social Work Without Borders raised concerns over the move.

“We would express deep concerns over such assessments being conducted by anyone other than an experienced social work practitioner.

“Assessment is not just a means of reaching a decision, it is a process whereby a skilled practitioner is able to obtain information sensitively from a young person, particularly those who have experienced trauma, and ensure that a child or young person is given every support in being able to relay their current experiences,” the group said.

It added: “Many young people who have suffered trauma may seek to minimise its effects, as a coping strategy. We are concerned that Home Office staff have neither the training nor experience to recognise such defensive mechanisms and this may affect the information they receive and ultimately the best interest decision being made.

“In addition, there are serious risks to young people in the context of human trafficking and we would query whether Home Office personnel have received the necessary training in order to be aware of risk factors and safeguard children and young people appropriately. Will the Home Office be explicit in how many social workers have conducted these assessments and how many have been completed by Home Office staff.”

The Home Office guidance said that in cases where immigration officials had led interviews, social workers could still request further information if they felt it necessary before making a best interests recommendation.

“In all cases, the role of the social worker is to make a recommendation based on their professional judgement. The final decision on whether to accept the recommendation will be made by UKVI staff,” the guidance said.

“A recommendation of the social worker on best interests should be accepted except in exceptional circumstances (for example if there are strong grounds to doubt the veracity of the information collected or the basis for the recommendation).”

6 Responses to Social workers ‘deeply concerned’ by Home Office guidance on assessing Calais camp children

  1. Anita Singh December 1, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    In my view, when it is necessary to undertake a thorough assessment of the risks to young people in the context of human trafficking, it is absolutely essential that any such assessment should be within the remit of a Section 47 Investigation, preferably jointly with the Police Public Protection Unit, specifically trained in ABE interviewing. To this end, I would say that it is Police Officers that need to be given the necessary training to work alongside Social Workers, in order to be aware of risk factors and safeguard children and young people appropriately, regardless of judgments about the age of a young person, which is being considered when undertaking best interests interviews.

    I wonder whether you will get a response from the Home Office re: the numbers of social workers conducting best interests assessments and how many have been completed by Home Office staff. However, another question to ask would be, how many young people have been appropriately interviewed under Section 47, given that these children and young people are extremely vulnerable and at high risk of human trafficking either for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude, as well as a range of other potential abuse by human traffickers.

    The best interests of the child, young person or adult victim, should always be at the centre of a formal police investigation of a potential crime in the form of human traffficking and not whether they should be allowed into the UK on the basis of their age and vulnerability, since as many adult refugees are also at risk and highly vulnerable. The matter of age and best interests can both be considered in the context of investigation of a criminal offence

    • P December 3, 2016 at 12:39 am #

      And there you have it. What a mess. All a bit late to start raising concerns about the definition of BI in terms of how it’s interpreted and applied when encountering children on the move. BI as reflected in section 67 of the Immigration Act 2016 and related guidance links directly to the asylum framework where UNHCR, UNICEF BIA guidance sits. UNHCR, UNICEF BIA guidance has been ceased upon, with the agreement of UNHCR, UNICEF i might add, as a tool to keep children on the move outside the mainstream framework of child safeguarding, welfare and protection. Social Work bodies had every chance to challenge the fracturing of the child first approach where the BI of children on the move were seen and treated differently to all other children in need if those children were British. A number of questions spring to my mind. Who carried out BIA in Calais with the children recently arrived in the UK under Dubs and or Dublin III? Was BI approached following the assessment framework in line with the Children Act or was it approached from the perspective of UNHCR, UNICEF BIA guidance. I anticipate the answer to your question regarding how many children have been interviewed / assessed via section 47 regs will be 0%. They re not applied, other than in very few cases when encountering trafficked children in the UK s why would one expect they would be applied to asylumised children.

      • Anita Singh December 6, 2016 at 10:58 pm #

        Hello P. The figure cannot be 0%, as I have undertaken joint interviews with the Police of arrivals in the UK of possible UASC, (the matter of investigation of a criminal offence against a possible minor should be the priority and was in the six people that I jointly interviewed). S47 is absolutely essential to search for evidence re: the potential for human traffickers to make contact with a vulnerable person for the purposes of exploitation, once the person has been moved into a foster care placement or as the case would be in France – to alternative accommodation. Once a person enters the UASC system joint investigation should routinely be initiated immediately for the purposes of achieving best evidence. BI interviews, should consider whether a crime needs to be investigated, surely in the best interests of any adult or child to assist and protect them from crimes such as human trafficking, whether they are in France or the UK.

        • P December 7, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

          Hello Anita,

          I hope we talk about the same assessment frameworks here; regarding Sec 47s, If I understand your point correctly I’m afraid the number of Sec 47s initiated for those children arriving from Calais is 0%.

          The relevant DfE Statutory UASC / trafficking guidance (forgive the UASC ref as rather ugly I think) clearly states where there are indicators of trafficking proceed as a Sec 47 and then initiate one. But that is not the point I’m making.
          By BI I refer to best Interests assessments (BIA) a BIA as used in Calais is outside of a Sec 47 and should not be used as some kind of filter assessment to determine if a crime has been committed. That is what the Police do as part of their own investigations and linked directly to the Sec 47 in partnership with all involved agencies. The BIAs undertaken in Calais by a range of NGO’s are outside the social care assessment framework and compound the issue of differential treatment and potentially delays any needs and risks (as defined within children’s legislation) being identified early. Be they trafficked children and or children in need.
          Also these assessments cannot be ABE compliant in any sense.
          The first contact assessment is critical in picking up needs and indicators of trafficking and a precursor to a Sec 47 also part of a children social care assessment even if these children were in Calais.
          To wait until they are in a Foster placement can be too late.

          With respect Anita I think your point “Once a person enters the UASC system joint investigation should routinely be initiated immediately for the purposes of achieving best evidence”
          highlights how children are channelled into a separate process (UASC). My point is all children regardless of whether they as unaccompanied or not fall within the scope of the Children Act and related child welfare legislation and guidance.
          These children and the children yet to arrive from Greece and elsewhere have rights under our child safeguarding / welfare and protection legislation. It is not optional or open to interpretation as to when and how it is applied.

          I say this as someone like you who for soem tme now has been and remains involved in not only the policy but undertaking trafficking, sec 47 and the range of other assessments

          • Anita Singh December 8, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

            Hi P,

            Thanks for clarifying the point of NGOs carrying out BI assessments in Calais, as I have been involved in the process in Calais. The approach under S47 to deal with potential sexual exploitation was was definitely new one and the team manager felt it worked much better. The interviews were Vietnamese young people stowed away on a boat and were not from Calais. Thanks for illuminating the difference of what is going on in Calais – unacceptable to say the least.

  2. Anita Singh December 8, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    Sorry, I meant I have NOT been involved in the process of Calais!