Posted: 14 February 2014

Making sense of this week's response about support for unaccompanied children

This week, the government published its long-awaited response to a parliamentary report on the rights of unaccompanied migrant children and young people in the UK.

The original report, which is a result of the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry gave a comprehensive overview of the gaps within provisions for children who find themselves alone in this country without any parent or carer responsible for them. 

Although there are some positive commitments in the government’s response, it doesn’t engage with much of the evidence presented in the inquiry and the recommendations made by the committee. 

Identifying unaccompanied young migrants’ needs

Despite being some of the most vulnerable children in our society, we know from our programmes around the country that these children often experience serious gaps in support. Based on the experience of our services and information gathered from young people, we submitted written evidence and gave oral evidence to the committee’s inquiry. Many of our concerns – echoed by local authorities and other NGOs – were reflected in the committee’s recommendations.

Children are owed rights to protection and support by the UK government under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) but the committee concluded that concerns about immigration control are too often given priority over matters to do with children’s safety and welfare. Their report called for a change in emphasis to put the best interests of children at the heart of the asylum and immigration process. 

Recommendations made

The report called for a clear cross-government strategy to be developed to safeguard and support unaccompanied migrant children and recommended that the Department for Education be given a more prominent role in overseeing the welfare of unaccompanied migrant children, in particular in administering grant funding to local authorities to support those children. 

It also recommended specific legislative changes to protect migrant care leavers from becoming destitute at 18 and called on government to establish pilots in England and Wales to appoint guardians for unaccompanied migrant children, to advocate for their best interests and to support them through the processes they are subject to. 

. . . Recommendations overlooked?

Despite these recommendations, the government’s response this week doesn’t fully address many of them. It remains unclear whether some of the recommendations have even been accepted or not and whether the government plans to make any improvements as suggested.

Going forward it is vital that parliament and children’s advocates continue to put pressure on government to ensure that every child is protected, no matter what their immigration status or where they’ve come from. 

We will continue to advocate that all children and young people should be kept safe and that their best interests should be put first. This includes making sure they can access health care, housing, education and legal advice when they need it, and that every young person is able to enjoy family life, build friendships, and have a standard of living that meets all their developmental needs.

By Ilona Pinter - Policy team

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