Huge human and financial cost of council delays resolving immigration status of children in care
One in ten children in care and 10,000 young care leavers have unresolved immigration issues, study finds
Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 18 February, 2022
Tens of thousands of children in care are suffering because local authorities are taking too long providing the information needed to resolve their immigration status, according to a new report.
The South London Refugee Association and Coram Children’s Legal Centre study found at least one in ten children in care and more than 10,000 young care leavers in England have unresolved immigration or citizen issues.
A citizenship application costs £1,012 per child but failing to resolve nationality and immigration until a young person leaves care and ongoing delays can cost councils £138,000 per child in Home Office fees and living costs, says the report.
The process can drag on for up to six years in some cases, putting young people under considerable stress living in limbo with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) preventing them receiving welfare benefits.
The report, Taking Care: How local authorities can best address immigration issues of children in care found nearly half (47 per cent) of local authorities have missing data on the immigration status of children in their care. This was based on 41 responding authorities out of 117 contacted under Freedom of Information requests.
The cost to local authorities could be millions, according to Home Office fees and data provided by local authorities through the NRPF Connect Database.
On average costs range between £19,000 and £23,000 a year, which equates to a potential total of £138,686 over the six years it can take as applications turn into appeals and renewals, and then the final application for settlement.
Care leaver Aisha, now a youth rights trainer, said: "Having no immigration status is a trap that it’s hard to escape from. Blocked from being able to work or study, it was hard for me not to feel rejected by the country that raised me.
“Knowing that so much could have been done, quicker and with better outcomes, shows how vital it is for local authorities to help children like me as soon as they can.”
Maya Pritchard, of South London Refugee Association, said the lack of complete records is putting children at risk: “Local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide children in care with immigration support. Without it, these young people, who are vulnerable and who have already been through so much, cannot plan for their futures and are at risk of destitution and exploitation when they turn 18.”
Marianne Lagrue, of Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said: “Funding for local government has been cut to the bone, and some of the most vulnerable children are bearing the consequences. Taking steps to resolve looked-after children’s immigration issues early is a win-win: it is much less costly for local authorities and serves the best interests of children in care, preventing years of uncertainty for children who desperately need a sense of belonging, stability and permanence.”
The charities are calling on local authorities to sign a pledge, which commits them to:
- identify all looked-after children and care leavers with immigration issues
- provide good quality legal support
- support children in care and care leavers through the immigration process
- enable those who are eligible to apply for permanent status and British citizenship.
Dr Carol Homden CBE, chief executive of Coram said: “Children who are taken into care in England need their corporate parents to look out for them in every way, including sorting out their immigration status, citizenship and passport. In immigration and nationality law as with so many other areas, early intervention and a proactive approach can change the course of children’s lives, providing permanence and the chance to thrive”.