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BASW: Lack of advocacy for asylum seeking children “diabolical”

As the Children’s Society publishes a critical report of the UK Border Agency’s practices when dealing with asylum seeking children, BASW has condemned the lack of legal advice, advocacy and specific supportive services for asylum seeking children as “diabolical”.

The report, Into the unknown: Children’s journeys through the asylum process, highlights a “wide-spread culture of disbelief” that already traumatised children have to face upon arrival to the UK, with little effort made to ensure that children understand what is happening to them, or indeed recognise their needs as children.

Disputes over their age are also said to increase confusion and fear amongst children. BASW has previously drawn attention to plans to introduce dental x-rays to establish a child’s age, saying “social workers need the time and resources to build relationships with unaccompanied minors to help ascertain their age, and their legal entitlement to services, rather than scrutinising them like a specimen in a science lab”.

Commenting on the report’s publication, BASW professional officer Sue Kent said: “We can only support the findings of this research, as members have often reported that lack of resources and training often leads to a poor service for these children. Although there is recognition for the need for specialist services in areas where children may arrive in the country, these are limited and under extreme stress, due to capacity and resource issues.

“There is also recognition that separated children have the right to protection wherever they end up, and yet many face ignorant and critical professionals who are over-stretched and under-trained to deal with these issues. The lack of legal advice, advocacy and specific supportive services is diabolical.

“While decisions about allocation by a local authority children’s team are made, a separated child is likely to face repeated questioning and frightening assessment processes about age and background to clarify if they are actually ‘a child’ before precious resources are given. They may be placed with a local foster carer, who too is lacking in knowledge and skills, or in bed and breakfast provision, as they ‘appear’ old enough to cope with this adult provision.

“Often children arriving in this country who are known to the authorities disappear and become a lost statistic, often moving into an increasingly frightening and abusive environment such as child sexual exploitation. Social workers report that to complete good assessments with any child, they need to build a trusting relationship. With children who have come from another country, this is doubly important, but far more time consuming. These children have a right to be safe (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) but social workers and other professionals are struggling to do make it happen.”