BASW’s cautious welcome for end to child detention

BASW has cautioned that the Home Office’s decision to end child detention at Yarl’s Wood removal centre needs to be merely a first step in efforts to people in the immigration system are treated with greater dignity and respect.

The Home Office announced its more “compassionate” approach to family removals on 16 December, after the chief inspector of the UK Borders Agency said there was a need for the UKBA to treat people “fairly and consistently”.

BASW has long called for the end to the detention of children in facilities such as Yarl’s Wood and offered a clear welcome for the move, but professional officer Nushra Mansuri suggested the move would be largely “symbolic” without more progress elsewhere in the system.

“On the one hand we are closing Yarl’s Wood, which is welcome, but on the other we are making cuts to legal aid which will affect these vulnerable people who need legal representations for very complex cases.”

We need a whole systems approach and to carry out an impact assessment looking at the treatment of children and young people in the system,” said Ms Mansuri. “There are better ways of dealing with these sensitive issues and we have to remember they are children first.”

Ms Mansuri warned that research had shown the average age of a child detained in these centres was four-years-old while other studies found there was no evidence that families held in these centres would abscond from communities anyway.

The coalition government pledged an end to child detention for immigration purposes earlier this year. It is expected that the practice of detaining children will end by May 2011, replaced instead by a new four stage process for family removals, focused on engagement with families during the decision making process.

The new process will see specially trained family case workers working with families throughout the asylum decision making process. Once a family’s appeals have been exhausted they will face a four-stage process:-

    * Family conferences to discuss their return home.
    * Assisted voluntary return packages to help them resettle upon their return.
    * Families who fail to take up the assistance package will be given required returns which will allow them to stay in the community, although they will be given just two weeks notice to board their flight home
    * If families fail to depart the UK, a range of options will be considered to ensure the return of families, which will be tailored to each family’s circumstances. Return plans will be agreed by a new independent panel.

The government will set up an Independent Family Returns Panel to ensure that child welfare and safeguarding issues are central to individual family return plans.

The announcement came the day after the UKBA chief inspector John Vine published his second annual report, identifying the need to take account of individual families’ circumstances at each stage of the family removals process and ensuring that it turns to detention only as a last resort.