Traumatised and neglected: how Britain fails child asylum-seekers

Sarah Cassidy
Friday 07 March 2008 01:00 GMT

Unaccompanied children who have fled persecution to seek asylum in Britain are being deprived of the support they need as a funding shortfall drives councils to save money, according to a damning report by the children's commissioner for England.

Traumatised children are being left isolated, unable to mix with any English youngsters or to access the health and education support they need, concluded the report into Hillingdon council in west London, which deals with many such cases because it is near Heathrow airport.

The Government must urgently review its funding for asylum-seeking children to stop this "vulnerable, traumatised and frightened" group being neglected, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, the children's commissioner, said.

There are about 6,035 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in England, of which the majority are in London and the South-east.

Sir Albert warned Hillingdon Council, where about 1,000 children are being temporarily housed, that it was unlawfully depriving some of the most vulnerable people in society of vital support. "There is no excuse for not putting the needs of children first. The fact is that Hillingdon is open to [a legal] challenge on this and it is my responsibility as children's commissioner to hold authorities to account," he said.

But he acknowledged that a funding shortfall had left Hillingdon struggling to cope and called on the Government to review its policy. His report concluded: "The findings of non-compliance with legislation put in place to protect children who are in the care of the local authority raise very considerable concerns."

But the council rejected many of the findings, arguing that it provided a good service and that the report reflected only a small part of its work.

The findings follow another report this week from the commissioner's organisation, 11 Million, which dislosed that asylum-seeking children were being left hungry, thirsty and alone when they went to log their asylum claim. Sir Albert said: "The care we give to the most vulnerable, traumatised and frightened children is really a barometer for how we look after children more generally."

He launched the inquiry into Hillingdon after concerns that the council was removing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from care at 16, rather than at 18, as would happen for other children in care. They were then transferred to the after-care system, where they received less support. Although Hillingdon abandoned this blanket policy after Sir Albert expressed his concerns, his investigation revealed children were still receiving less support than they should.

The report also criticised Hillingdon for not doing more to meet children's educational needs. Young people should be offered a greater range of college courses when their English is proficient enough, it said.

The report also called on Hillingdon to review its practice of passing responsibility for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to personal advisers once the child reached 16. It argued that the council must ensure that each child had an allocated social worker and a care plan until they are ready to leave care.

Julian Wooster, Hillingdon's deputy director of children's services, said: "We could always do better, but I think we do the best we can with the resources we have. The most vulnerable young people are placed in foster care or residential homes and the commissioner did not look at that aspect of our work for this report."

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