Over the course of this blog series, I’ve examined the lives of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Britain as they turn eighteen and become legal adults. My previous post laid out the most pressing problems facing these young people, including confusion on their entitlements, insufficient training for social workers, and lack of specialist legal knowledge. Here I’ll outline some potential changes that could make leaving care easier for unaccompanied children.
[h3]1. Formal system of guardianship[/h3]One of the most discussed issues surrounding separated children is whether the UK should establish a formal system of guardianship for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. In this context, a guardian is known as someone who helps separated children through the asylum process by accompanying the child to different visits, helping to plan the child’s future, and simply serve as a person on the child’s side. A guardian could help separated children transitioning to adulthood by serving as an advocate and someone who would be able to offer explanations throughout the process.
A pilot program for guardianship, the Scottish Guardianship Service recently completed its second year in Scotland. Though it is still small in scale, the program has thus far been received fairly positively by the agencies that it interacts with. The Scottish Guardianship Service currently plans to continue offering guidance from guardians to former separated children over the age of 18—a service that would be much appreciated by the care leavers as other services are cut. Guardian appointment would also bring the UK into better compliance with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which calls for all children to have guardians.
[h3]2. Extend support until 21[/h3]Perhaps the simplest solution is for all care leavers—regardless of immigration status—to be provided with support from the UKBA through local authorities until the age of 21. This would include young people who have exhausted their rights of appeal, who generally have the fewest resources available to them. The Children Society’s report “I Don’t Feel Human Anymore” suggests that leaving care provisions could become available by amending Schedule 3 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Though care leaver provisions would be a simple way of providing for all separated children in transition, the cost involved and the current attitudes in the Home Office makes support for this proposal unlikely.
[h3]3. More extensive and frequent training for social workers[/h3]One of the major problems identified in the previous post was training for social workers. Immigration policy is extremely complex and continuously changing, making it difficult for social workers to keep up-to-date with its many intricacies. Giving social workers who work with separated children specific and frequent training on immigration policy and updates would be greatly beneficial for both the social workers and the separated children they work with. Knowledge of immigration policy and the related benefits would be especially helpful as young people turn eighteen and attempt to transition out of the system.
[h3]4. Government guidelines for local authorities[/h3]One practical suggestion that could significantly decrease gaps in provision for separated children turning eighteen is for the central government to create guidelines for local authorities on how to support young people who have exhausted their rights to appeal. Ideally the government could provide specific guidelines to local authorities about when young people are entitled to continued support, UKBA policies on providing support for young people, and other provisions of law that might affect former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Government-issued guidelines would establish a protocol for separated children leaving care and therefore provide something for social workers and young people to follow when navigating an extremely confusing system.
[h3]5. Improve access to advice[/h3]One major cut by the Coalition government has been in legal advice for immigrants and refugees. Many legal aid clinics and free legal advice programmes have been forced to close and those that are still open are overwhelmed with clients. In addition, most immigration cases do not qualify for legal aid now. As pointed out in the last post, most solicitors who do not specialise in immigration law as it applies to children. Additional training could be provided for solicitors who work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
At The Forum, we often see people who have nowhere else to turn. Over the last two years, we have seen an increase in the demand for advice because so many other advice centres have closed. With changes everywhere in the benefits system, it is difficult for most people to navigate, let alone unaccompanied children turning 18. The government should acknowledge the important role of advice in solving problems before they start and in correcting errors made by government incompetence. Advice provision could be improved for former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children by increasing the funding and availability drop-in advice centres like The Forum.
[h3]Conclusions[/h3]The transition period for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children leaving care is fraught with misunderstanding and constant change. All young people becoming legal adults someday but this group faces special legal, physical, and emotional challenges that are difficult to navigate on their own. In many ways, the system that is supposed to provide support is failing them. Of course, many social workers, solicitors, and other advocates are helping these young people survive but this is not a long term solution. The Home Office and local authorities need to take some of these practical steps to improve the lives of these former separated children, and now is the time to do so.