Child welfare fears at immigration centre as key post remains vacant

Campaigners have raised concerns about the welfare of children detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre because the social worker post at the centre has been vacant since the end of March.

The social worker, who was employed by Bedfordshire Council but seconded to Yarl’s Wood and paid for by the Home Office, was posted at the centre in January. Duties included carrying out welfare assessments on children detained for 21 days, but the social worker subsequently resigned.

The post is in line with recommendations in a July 2005 report by the chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, that each child at Yarl’s Wood should receive independent welfare and needs assessments.

England’s children’s commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green, visited Yarl’s Wood last October and praised the appointment of the social worker in a subsequent report that criticised the treatment of children detained in the centre.

A spokesperson for his office said this week it was concerned about the departure of the social worker and was in contact with Yarl’s Wood and the Home Office about arrangements to continue the “important work” that had been started.

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire Council said social workers from the council were now carrying out the assessments.

A Home Office spokesperson said the centre’s children’s services manager, who is employed by GSL, the company that runs Yarl’s Wood, was ensuring that the “full range” of the social worker’s responsibilities were met until the position was filled.

But Community Care has also learned that the children’s services manager is due to leave his position.

The Home Office spokesperson said the Immigration and Nationality Directorate also employed a children’s champion with responsibility for children across the immigration service, providing an “extra level of scrutiny”.

He said a new social worker was being recruited and the position had been advertised.

Rona Blackwood, assistant programme director at Save the Children, said that while the social worker position remained vacant, “one of the few safeguards for children in detention is no longer there”.

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