Monday, 23 November 2015


A sneaky amendment to the Immigration Bill 2015 passed its second reading in the House of Commons last week, and means desperate families whose appeal rights have been exhausted, and whose circumstances are not deemed “exceptional” enough to be supported by the Home Office, will no longer receive a children-in-need assessment. The Bill reaches its report stage and third reading on 1 December. Children In Need assessments take place under Section 17 of The Children Act 1989, and have been used by social workers to champion the cause of families seeking asylum, offering the chance to keep families together.

Jonathan Price, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society, said this change could reduce support and create an inconsistent system for vulnerable children. “By taking the support for many families with no recourse to public funds outside of the Children Act framework and replacing it with immigration legislation, it takes the focus away from safeguarding issues. The assessments of need are likely therefore to be more limited in scope. “A breadth of safeguarding issues at play with vulnerable children and families—exploitation, domestic violence, neglect—could go unnoticed under the new assessment framework.”

Families with no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status are restricted from accessing mainstream benefits including welfare and housing. Price added there were questions around what level and type of support would be provided to meet the needs of children since the raft of case law discussing what will be provided for this group, under section 17 of the Children Act 1989, would no longer apply.

The intention of The Immigration Bill is clearly to reduce the numbers of families receiving vital support thereby acting as a deterrent to asylum seekers. Assessments could be undertaken by non-social work staff in Local Authorities without the skills or compassionate values needed to determine what support is needed.

Provisions under immigration legislation, unlike under the Children Act 1989, define need by basic measures such as the amount of money in your bank account and could miss complex areas of need like exploitation and neglect. Campaigners have said that these new measures would not ensure vulnerable children were safeguarded.

 Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said:  “There is a question of whether these changes are realistic. Are MPs genuinely intending to vote through Parliament a bill that says certain children,  because of their immigration status, will be uniquely disadvantaged? “It is highly unlikely Parliament really wants to do this. We are extremely clear we have an unambiguous duty of care under UK law and it is likely children would have to be supported anyway under other areas of legislation.”

The Children Act 1989 (Section 17)- lays a duty on local authorities to safeguard, promote the welfare and provide services for children in need. The definition of ‘in need’ has three elements:

  • The child is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for the child of services by a local authority or;
  • The child’s health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without provision for the child of such services or;
  • The child is disabled.

Children traumatised by war, terror, homelessness, the death of a parent and fleeing persecution with their families are clearly eligible for support under the Children Act 1989. This is why the Tory government wants to exclude them from its provisions. Asylum seeking children are clearly at risk of developing social, emotional and psychological problems as a result of their recent experiences. They probably require the most intensive levels of support of any group of children in Britain.

The UK was one of the last countries to sign up to the UN Convention on the of Rights of the Child 1989 and has a poor record of supporting families compared to other developed countries. A recent Unicef survey ranked Britain 16th out of 29 developed countries for the welfare of children, behind Portugal, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.  he report warned that spending cuts to youth and children’s services could lead to a reversal of the gains in recent years. Britain has the second-worst mortality rate for children in western Europe and the highest levels of mental illness in under-25s. Poor children are twice as likely to die as the more affluent. 

The UN Convention indicates on a human rights basis what rights children ought to enjoy and what the obligations of signatory states are. Three principles underpin the Convention:

  • All the rights under the convention must be available to all children without discrimination of any kind
  • The child’s best interests must be a primary consideration in all actions concerning them
  • The child’s views must be considered and taken into account in all matters affecting them

The Convention goes beyond the principles contained in the Children Act 1989 and is likely to be used by social workers determined to ensure children in asylum-seeking families are not neglected. First the Children Act established that courts have to regard the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration. But under Article 3 of the Convention the child’s welfare is a primary consideration across a wider range of settings where decisions about the child’s welfare are made. So decisions about school exclusion or asylum hearings could be appealed under this article. Three other main principles enshrined in the UN Convention reinforce the philosophy of safeguarding children and young people:

  • Children have unique needs which set them apart from adults
  • The best environment for a child is within a protective and nurturing family
  • Governments and adults in general should be committed to acting in the best interest of the child

These rights are categorised into general rights to life, expression, information and privacy. More specifically the child should have protective rights against being exploited or abused. Civil rights are highlighted including the right to nationality and personal identity, along with the right to stay with the family. Alongside these is the acknowledgment that children should be in an environment which encourages development and offers a foundation for welfare. Special circumstance rights include children in war zones or other challenging situations were needs for safety have to be considered. The Children Act 1989 confirmed many of these ideas into British law and the Children Act 2004 continues the defence of children’s rights including the right of protection from harm and to education, growth, health and well being.