A new report from the Children’s Commissioner for England has criticised the London Borough of Hillingdon for its treatment of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC).
The Commissioner’s organisation – 11 Million – found that Hillingdon failed to support children in their basic health and educational needs and that decisions were often made without taking into consideration the children’s best interests.
The report highlights numerous failings made by Hillingdon, in particular a policy of ‘de-accommodating’ children after only thirteen weeks in the care system if they were over 16-years-old. Often decisions on ‘de-accommodating’ were made during a first review which did not involve the child at all.
Children interviewed for the report felt isolated from other children of their age and, as a result, many felt apprehensive about leaving their residential accommodation when they turned 18 because they feared losing touch with the only other people they knew in England.
The Children’s Commissioner also voiced concern that children were often not involved before or during reviews into their care situation, and were informed about the outcome of reviews by a letter, written only in English, which most of the children could not understand. Most also did not understand the difference between being ‘looked-after’ (placed into local authority care) and being ‘de-accommodated’ (discharged from local authority care) or which category they fell in.
Basic services were found to be difficult for children to access, especially health care where many children were not accompanied by interpreters. Whilst most of the children were being taught English at a local college, they were denied the chance to expand their educational achievement by taking other classes.
A major concern to both the Children’s Commissioner and the children interviewed for the report was the absence of regular adult guidance and support. The report found that social workers in the Hillingdon area are often overworked and unable to provide support to UASC. Children still under local authority care should have meetings with a social worker, but the report found that many of the children either did not have an allocated social worker or did not know if they did. Children who are ‘de-accommodated’ are allocated a personal advisor, but many children said they met with that advisor only once or twice a year.
Hillingdon responded to the report by claiming that it was working with limited resources, a fact that the Children’s Commissioner does not dispute. His report calls on the government to provide adequate funding for local authorities to care for the needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.