A recent report by the National Audit Office reveals that
unaccompanied asylum-seeking children do not receive the same
standard of care from social services departments that is offered
to indigenous children in need, even though their legal rights are
identical. Many do not receive a full needs assessment or care
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are routinely supported in
temporary housing under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Many
of the organisations with which the Family Rights Group works say
that these children are regularly placed in B&Bs and seldom see
a social worker or receive support. In one case, an unaccompanied
asylum seeker of 15 had been referred to social services for help.
He was traumatised, lonely and suffering from severe depression.
The authority placed him in a run down B&B several miles
outside of the borough. He was not found a school place or a GP and
the child had not been visited by anyone for more than two
Research confirms that asylum-seeking children are often placed in
accommodation that is largely unsupervised, such as hostels or
shared houses with adults who have not been assessed for their
suitability to live with minors. It is unlikely that many of these
placements are monitored closely enough to ensure the placement is
suitable or safe.
Such practice is not only discriminatory but would also appear
unlawful. Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 places a duty on
councils to accommodate a “child in need” who has no adult
providing for them. Therefore, the law would appear to dictate that
all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are entitled to be
accommodated under section 20. Budgetary concerns cannot be used to
defeat the central purpose of the act.
Increasingly, social services departments defend their actions on
the basis that many asylum seekers claim to be children in order to
receive services under the Children Act 1989.
No evidence has been shown to support this view. However,
government research into why asylum seekers come to the UK confirms
what many of those working with asylum seekers have always known –
they are here not to claim benefits but to escape persecution. One
spoke of his amazement that in the UK people could speak out
against the government: “You can go to Hyde Park and you can shout.
I can’t believe that.”
Social services departments continue to buy into the tabloid press
image of the asylum seeker. It is unclear how this two-tier system
of child protection will be explained away when a young asylum
seeker is seriously injured or dies. It would appear that while we
may be in Hyde Park shouting, no one is listening.
Pamela Fitzpatrick is policy adviser at the Family Rights
Group, a charity that provides advice and support for families
whose children are involved with social services.