A new previously undisclosed UKBA policy on children has come to light, brought to you courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act and What Do They Know?
The policy is entitled Children and Family Process Instruction and specifically relates to the Criminal Casework Directorate and deportation cases. However, it clearly has wider ramifications in other areas of UKBA casework. If the rights of children are to be properly considered in deportation cases where there is a strong public interest in deportation, surely such considerations apply all the more strongly in ordinary removal cases?
The bits that particularly interested me were as follows:
- The need to safeguard children is very explicit and includes a commitment to ‘enable those children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully’ (section 1). This does not override the need for deportation/removal in some cases but has to be properly considered – which it most certainly is not in many cases I deal with.
- There is a clear whistleblowing procedure for UKBA staff, which has to be a good thing.
- The policy helpfully reminds UKBA staff that:
- It goes on to state that Children’s Services and if relevant CAFCASS should be consulted (sections 1, 2.2, 2.2.1 and 2.2.2). This is ‘in order to discharge our duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children’, i.e. it is not an optional extra, it is part and parcel of the new section 55 duty. I’ve never seen any evidence of this in any of the cases I have dealt with involving children and it seems very unlikely this happened in the appalling and recent T case.
- In cases where a family may be split, the local Safeguarding Children Co-ordinator and the UKBA Office for the Children’s Champion should always be consulted (section 3.1.1).
- There are suggestions that a child and spouse be deported alongside the main deportee as a way of avoiding splitting the family.
- It is suggested that UKBA be proactive about gathering evidence of family ties (section 2.2.3), which is to be welcomed.
- The effect of a split in the family on an affected child must be considered (3.1.2):
- Section 4 deals with the detention of children. Unlike Phil Woolas, the policy does seem to recognise that there is an alternative to detaining a child other than taking the child into social services care: not detaining the child. Genius.
- There is a section on making enquiries about adequate care arrangements in the country of origin for unaccompanied children (section 5).
- Section 7 deals with ongoing family proceedings in the family courts and indicates that in many cases removal will be delayed until such proceedings are concluded.
In dealing with appeals, judicial reviews and additional applications, it is all too easy to lose sight of children’s need to have contact with their parents or guardians who are facing detention, removal or deportation from the UK.
In those cases where we do not propose to deport or otherwise remove some family members in the UK (and their nationality is immaterial) the appropriate parties (see section 1.1) must be consulted for advice on the effect of the split on the child. It is essential that enquiries are made, prior to referral if possible, to ensure that as much background information can be provided with respect to the potential effect of our actions on any children. It is important that staff also consider (and consult) whether there is any effective legal or welfare barrier to the family member(s) accompanying or joining the deportee on a voluntary basis. This will also have the effect of allowing these issues to be considered at any appeal against the deportation decision.
This isn’t an exhaustive description – if you deal with children cases you need to have a careful look at the whole lot.
Children’s Services and/or CAFCASS can give voice to any welfare concerns around a family being split, which is great in those cases where there is such involvement. Most families do not have any social services or CAFCASS contact, though, so in the vast majority of cases there is still no mechanism for the welfare and best interests of the child to be properly considered. Perversely, the UKBA approach actually puts families with whom social services are involved in a better position than the vast majority of families where social services have no cause for concern about care of the children. There is nothing about seeking evidence from the children themselves where appropriate, from the resident parent or about properly considering Independent Social Worker reports if presented.
Also, what happened to section 2.1 of the policy? There are a few bits that seem to be missing, and there are several other documents and forms referred to that I’d be interested so see. Further FOI requests may be in the pipeline…