The Immigration Bill has the potential to bring through changes that would take vital support away from young people who are leaving care with uncertain immigration status or who cannot return to their home country, leaving them vulnerable to destitution, homelessness, and exploitation.
The Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers, co-chaired by Action for Children, and the Refugee Children’s Consortium are worried about proposals in the Bill because they will effectively prioritise immigration control over young people’s welfare needs. The potential changes are in danger of creating a two-tier system of support. This would have damaging consequences for young people who may even have lived in the UK for many years or who are unable to return to their home country because it is unsafe.
Young people who would be affected include those who do not have leave to remain or have no asylum applications pending when they turn 18. We are also worried because at the moment there are some gaps in the law which could mean that care leavers who may end up securing rights to remain in the UK will be excluded from care leaving support. Other young people who would have less support under the proposals are those who are not be able to go home because it is not safe, whatever the outcomes of applications.
A separate system isn’t necessary. The Children Act 1989 and current provision for care leavers, which includes access to a Personal Advisor and a Pathway Plan, provides a robust way to support a young person leaving care – wherever their future lies.
We know that leaving care support is crucial. Care leavers – like any other young person – need help to settle into adult life. And these young people really do need this support. You don’t just automatically become an adult when you wake up on your 18th birthday. Becoming independent and taking those last steps into adulthood can be difficult enough even with a loving family around you and no deadline for leaving home. For young people leaving care, not only do they miss out on this stability, but they have often been abused and neglected too, so need support more than ever. And for young people leaving care with uncertain immigration status, these challenges have usually been intensified by a traumatic complete separation from family, as well as terrible experiences from war in their country of origin, or during their journey to the UK.
"We need to treat these young people with humanity. They are somebody’s child, somebody’s grandchild … They are recognised to be extremely vulnerable because of their histories."
Earl of Listowel
The Government did listen to some of our initial concerns, and made it clearer that young people seeking asylum (first application or appeal) will still receive care leaving support. The Minister for Immigration assured the Alliance that under the alternative system of support young people could still have access to a Personal Advisor, and the chance to remain with former foster carers. This is really encouraging, and we welcome it.
But there would be no legal duty to provide these forms of support (as with other care leavers). Instead, a power to make regulation will be put in place. This carries the very real risk that young people would receive a sub-standard level of support because local authorities can choose the level of support a young person gets. They might be moved away from their local area where they have put down roots. They might not be able to access mental health services. They may even have trouble with legal representation. All this would increase the possibility of young people falling through gaps in the system. We would lose sight of them, and not only would it be less likely that they would be able to go back to their home country, but they would be in danger of homelessness, destitution, and possible exploitation.
The Bill has reached Report stage in the House of Lords, which means that there is only one more stage to go before it returns to the House of Commons for agreement. However, we do have opportunities to influence the changes. The Home Office has invited the Alliance and the Consortium to offer their input into the development of the new system, which is very positive. The Earl of Listowel, Baroness Lister and the Bishop of Norwich have also tabled amendments to the Immigration Bill, which would work to make sure that leaving care support will continue for all young people. These will be debated on Monday, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on progress there.
We hope that the Lords will support the amendments, and that the Government will listen. Otherwise it is quite simply unclear how these young people will be kept safe as they make the leap from care into independence.
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