As the Illegal Migration Bill enters Report Stage on Wednesday 26th April, the Children’s Commissioner remains concerned about provisions in the Bill for children and young people. The Children’s Commissioner for England has a statutory duty, as set out in the Children Act 2004, to promote and protect the rights of children all children, with particular regard to children living away from home or receiving social care services.
During Committee Stage the Children’s Commissioner was glad to see so many members recognise the needs of children, whether unaccompanied or with their family. The Children’s Commissioner welcomes the fact that members have laid amendments seeking to prevent children from being accommodated by the Home Office, removing children from the duty and power to be removed, to prevent their detention, and to improve protections for child victims of trafficking.
Since Committee Stage of the Bill the Children’s Commissioner has sought further assurance from the Home Office about protecting children and young people.
The Children’s Commissioner is concerned about the safety of unaccompanied children who are housed in Home Office run accommodation while awaiting transfer to local authorities. These children should have looked after child status from the moment they arrive and should be in the care of local authorities.
The Bill has the potential to make it harder for local authorities to fulfil their duties in the Children Act 1989. Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 clearly details the Home Secretary’s duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in relation to asylum and nationality issues, as set out in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
The Children’s Commissioner has written to the Home Secretary to ask for assurances that appropriate safeguarding practices are in place across the hotel provision to protect and support vulnerable unaccompanied children – and remains concerned about unaccompanied children’s welfare when they are housed in the hotels.
To investigate these issues in greater detail the Children’s Commissioner wrote to the Home Office on the 5th of April to request information about the treatment of children seeking asylum in the UK, using Section 2F of the Children Act 2004. The Commissioner requested child level data on all unaccompanied children aged 17 years or younger seeking asylum in the UK, who have been accommodated by the Home Office in hotel accommodation for at least one night since July 2021. The full data request is published alongside this briefing.
The Home Office was given a deadline of the 17th of April to respond to the request and is yet to receive the data. The data requested was administrative data that should be routinely collected. Given the Home Office has yet to respond to the statutory data request, the Children’s Commissioner is concerned that the data is not being systemically recorded. The Children’s Commissioner wrote again to the Home Secretary to follow up on the request as a week has now passed since the statutory data request deadline.
As the Bill enters Report Stage, the Children’s Commissioner has reiterated her priority areas for amendments.