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).”