7.2. This chapter also examines arrangements for children held with their families using evidence from HMI Prisons inspections of two immigration removal centres in England: Oakington (Cambridgeshire) and Tinsley House (West Sussex). The centre at Dungavel (South Lanarkshire) is outside the scope of this review, although asylum-seeking families based in England might be placed there pending deportation.
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7.37 Councils and other agencies face a challenging and complex task in planning and providing services for asylum-seeking children. This is compounded by factors often outside their control, including unpredictable numbers, difficulties in reconciling immigration requirements and welfare considerations, uncertainties about funding and scarcity of accurate information.
7.38 All the councils reviewed have a strong commitment to safeguarding asylum-seeking children, but those in London and the south east have greater experience of working with diverse communities and highly mobile populations. Some councils in the dispersal areas had under-estimated the range and levels of support needed and their lack of experience in meeting those needs.
7.39 Key areas for improvement include:
- joint working between immigration officials and local agencies. Appointing qualified and experienced child care advisers to immigration officials would help reconcile immigration and welfare considerations, especially in relation to children in immigration removal centres;
- information sharing between agencies. Some councils fail always to notify receiving councils of the placement of homeless families or unaccompanied asylum-seeking children;
- assessment of welfare needs. Agencies coming into contact with asylum seekers may not always be referring children for assessments of children in need or possibly child protection issues, where necessary;
- healthcare provision, particularly specialist mental health care;
- identifying child protection concerns. Where concerns are picked up, they are normally handled equally well for asylum-seeking children as for others. Some issues may not be adequately identified, including private fostering, sexual exploitation and kidnapping for forced marriage;
- matching unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to suitable foster carers, where some councils experience considerable difficulties. While this remains an intractable problem, some councils have developed innovative solutions from which others could learn;
- service provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children aged 16-18 and support for over-18s not previously looked after; and
- the welfare of children held in immigration removal centres. The lack of effective guidance and procedures, agreed between the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and local ACPCs, on child protection arrangements to be applied in immigration removal centres is of considerable concern. Such guidance should include immediate and continuing independent social services assessments, education and care plans and child protection team strategy conferences, which inform decisions about continuing detention.