Co-incidentally, after my last post on Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Children (UASCs) an excellent but depressing article appeared in The Guardian on the same topic. It describes the circumstances in which many refugee children live and was prompted by a piece of research by the excellent Heaven Crawley (full report, executive summary, both available from the ILPA website under ‘publications’). Heaven, who has a great name apart from anything else, has done some great research projects in the past on gender and asylum and was instrumental in the movement to highlight gender issues in asylum claims and the asylum process (see the Women’s Refugee Project, based at Asylum Aid, for further information on this subject – Heaven played an important early role in the project) and on the reasons why asylum seekers come to the UK, in a little publicised Home Office commissioned piece of research. I notice in inserting the link that Heaven’s name no longer appears as an author but she was certainly closely involved in the research. The Home Office didn’t like the research results, so never refer to it. They prefer not to indulge in evidence-based policy formulation, and would generally rather go with knee-jerk reactions and the gut instincts of ministers.
Anyway, the report is pretty worrying. In essence, social workers are underestimating the ages of refugee children in order not to have to provide the high levels of support to which younger children are entitled. By overestimating ages, a local authority can reduce its outgoings. I find myself sympathetic to local authorities in some ways. The funding formula for the distribution of central government money does not adequately fund the complex needs of refugee children, and some local authorities have far more refugee children resident within their boundaries than others. Other services therefore have to be cut or additional taxes raised.
The solution is not underestimating the ages of children, though, it is a proper response from central government and a fair funding formula for local government.