Home Office Unaccompanied Child Reform Program
In January, the Home Office "incidentally" announced a major change to the asylum decision making process and the support of unaccompanied children.
We use the word "incidentally" because the change was neither formally published for consultation nor tabled as an agenda item in any official stakeholder meetings. Complaints and pressure, including from Medical Foundation, have it seems persuaded the Home Office of the need to provide a Cabinet Office compliant consultation process although despite assurances to the contrary by the Home Office there remain concerns that plans and contracting arrangements for the dispersal of children have already effectively been decided by the Home Office.
The changes include proposals to "disperse" all unaccompanied children arriving in the UK via short term "assessment" centres, where social workers and immigration staff will work together leading to onward dispersal to 10 or more contracted local authority areas, all outside London.
The measures also suggest the possible testing of X-ray age determination methods directly in contradiction to clinical ethics concerns and EU Directives; seek inappropriately to merge the asylum protection and child welfare decision making processes; and link support arrangements much more closely to Home Office removal targets. In short, this is a fundamental change to the child asylum and support system and one which will have major implications not only for the welfare and protection of our child clients but also for their ability to access our services if dispersed.
Meetings with the relevant Home Office officials to discuss our concerns have been requested and accepted but have not yet taken place.