Children held at Yarl’s Wood against social workers’ advice

Children are still being detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre for up to 100 days, despite the “adverse” effect on their welfare and often against social workers’ advice, an inspection has found.

The unannounced inspection into the Bedfordshire removal centre in November 2009 found that 420 children had been held there in the previous six months, even though their detention was not “exceptional or necessary”.

Children were held longer than the average 14 days, with 68 detained for more than a month and one baby held for 100 days. In some cases, this was despite concerns raised by social workers. The average length of detention for all asylum seekers held at the centre increased by 50% since the previous inspection in February 2008.

Chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers commended the improving conditions, activities and services for children, but said this “could not compensate for the adverse effect of detention itself on the welfare of children, half of whom were later released back into the community”.

Decisions to detain children were not based on their welfare, she found, with no evidence that detailed welfare dicussions fed into submissions to ministers on continued detention.

Owers raised concerns that force had been used twice against children. She noted there was no detailed national guidance on the circumstances in which force or restraint could be used on children and recommended “better resourced pre-release work” to reduce its need.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas said removal centres were a necessary part of enforcing the removal of people from the UK who refused to depart voluntarily. But he added: “It is vital they are well-run, safe and secure and we are pleased to note [Anne Owers’s] acknowledgement of significant improvement in a number of areas.”

But Camilla Engeset, policy officer at The Children’s Society, and Addie Trude, research and policy manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees, said their experience of working with children and families held at Yarl’s Wood supported the assertion that detention adversely affected children’s welfare.

“We are especially concerned about Owers’s observation of the use of force on, or in the presence of, children,” they said.

The report is just the latest critical inspection of Yarl’s Wood. Last month, former children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley Green slammed the centre for failing to adequately assess children for their psychological well-being and for “unacceptable delays” in providing children with medical treatment.

Aynsley Green called Yarl’s Wood “no place for a child.”

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