Posted: 02 February 2016

Immigration Bill threatens support for care leavers

Becoming an adult can be challenging for everyone, even more so for young people leaving care. 

Imagine then if you were not only leaving care, had no family to rely on except your foster carers and the local authority, but also you faced an uncertain future linked to your immigration status. This could mean being removed from the only country you know or being unable to achieve your potential and go onto further study. This is the reality facing children that have come to the UK on their own or find themselves here alone, and are in the care of a local authority. 

Many of these children – known as unaccompanied children – are taken into the care of their local council and granted temporary leave to stay in the UK by the Home Office until they turn 18. They then need to reapply to regularise their status. The experience of one of these children is the focus of a report published today by the Local Government Ombudsman condemning a local council for the lack of support they provided when this young person was preparing for adulthood. 

Immigration status needed to be attended as a priority

Today’s report concluded that were it not for the faults of the council the young care leaver’s application to the Home Office would have been made as a child, which may have given her a greater chance of success.

One of the main challenges facing these young people is the uncertainty of their future – a point recognised in the report and highlighted in the young person’s pathway plan as a priority to supporting her transition to adulthood.

The role of the state as the corporate parent means they need to make sure they support a child in resolving their status early on before they turn 18. This situation has become all the more acute for these vulnerable young people since immigration cases have been removed from the scope of legal aid.

In our report Cut off from Justice we estimate this situation affects thousands of children and young people every year – at a minimum the Government has said that 2,500 cases involving children in their own right every year will not be able to get legal aid in their immigration cases.

I could not see my life moving forward

The Immigration Bill currently making its way through the House of Lords threatens to make this situation even worse creating a two tier system of leaving care support for young people based on their status. The Bill will create a system which discriminates against care leavers who do not have leave to remain.

This could have damaging consequences for up to 3,600 care leavers that would be affected by this new law – some of them might no longer be provided with a personal adviser, will not be able to ‘stay put’ with their foster carer until the age of 21, get support with their legal fees or be supported to continue with their education or training. 

Not just ‘adult migrants’ 

The Government’s argument is that these young people are simply ‘adult migrants’. Yet this contradicts and disregards the intention of leaving care legislation which recognises the special obligations of local and central government to care leavers – their corporate children.

It ignores the traumatic experiences these young people have gone through such as being separated from their parent and siblings, being abandoned, experiencing violence, abuse and exploitation. Today’s report shows how the state failed one young person in her transition to adulthood.  As the local authority failed to plan for her turning 18 this resulted in her losing a university place and facing extortionate legal fees.  The case could become much more common should the measures in the Immigration Bill go ahead. 

“My case worker and social worker were concerned and believed I was deeply depressed. I could not see my life moving forward, everything I tried to do came to a halt”

A care leaver who has been supported by us

Facing adulthood without the support from the local authority, these young people feel isolated and vulnerable, meaning they are at greater risk of exploitation or destitution. Whilst the Government has agreed to provide basic accommodation and financial support in some limited cases these young people need more than simply cash.

These young migrants leaving care can often face additional difficulties: they are particularly likely to self-harm and are much less likely to have contact with their biological family members so staying in foster care and maintaining contact with personal advisers is key in promoting their wellbeing.

Most worryingly, the ability of the local authorities to act as a ‘corporate parent’ as they are required to do under children’s laws is overridden under the Immigration Bill leaving thousands of young people without support.

By Lucy Dacey - Programme staff

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