Safeguarding Children Board condemns ‘litany of failings’ – at Yarl’s Wood detention centre

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Marching for equal rights for all migrant workers in May 2007
Marching for equal rights for all migrant workers in May 2007

BEDFORDSHIRE Local Safeguarding Children Board published a highly critical report on Monday, June 14.

The report exposes a litany of failings by: Local authority managers; Local authority social workers; Local police; Local GP; UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) ‘Children’s Champion’; and SERCO.

Commenting on the report, Malcolm Stevens, former senior government advisor on Social Services, said: ‘Yarl’s Wood failed these children.

‘Here is evidence of whole system failure in and around Yarl’s Wood.

‘This calls into question whether the children there now are being properly looked after.

‘It calls into question the competence of UKBA to conduct the current review into arrangements for children.

‘The government urgently needs to appoint someone with independence, experience and professional competence to run the Review into ending child detention.’

Among the failings:

The Local Authority learned of evidence that children below the age of criminal responsibility engaged in sexual activity but failed to carry out complex enquiries in respect of two families, under section 47, Children Act, 1989.

The local authorities’ managers and social workers misunderstood the significance which should attach to the age of criminal responsibility.

They misunderstood the concept of ‘consent’ believing in error that such young children could be consensually involved in sexual activity.

They failed to investigate concerns that older children may also have been involved in the sexual abuse of a child, and that these older young people might pose a continuing threat to other detainees.

The local authority social workers:

• failed to interview the mother of a child said to have been abused;

• failed to liaise adequately with other agencies;

• failed to carry out appropriate checks with other localities;

• failed adequately to secure police involvement in the enquiries.

The police:

• inappropriately terminated their inquiries without reference to specialist child protection officers.

The GP:

• failed to recognise that this was a child protection situation, failed to ensure that the child was seen by a paediatrician.

UKBA’s ‘Children’s Champion’:

• failed to challenge the decisions made by local statutory agencies.

UKBA:

• failed to brief ministers properly: ‘UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children,’ says the report.

‘Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.’

Children were failed by the UKBA/Bedfordshire Council arrangements for safeguarding: ‘This Service did not challenge the weaknesses and confusion inherent in the approach of the local authorities and GP,’ says the report.

‘This raises concerns about the effectiveness of these arrangements and suggests the role of the workers within the Service should be reviewed.’

Vulnerable children fell through the gap in regulatory arrangements: ‘. . . It appears that no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention,’ says the report.

The report makes stringent and detailed recommendations whose severity highlights the degree and multiplicity of failures of care in this case.

E.g. SERCO should:

a) ensure that it can discharge its specific duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, in a way that is not solely reliant on other agencies, and includes an assessment of a child’s welfare needs and any risks posed to or by that child.

b) review arrangements for joint working with Bedford Borough Council to ensure that there are clear systems for feedback to residents of the IRC (Immigration Removal Centre) detained with children, the outcome of any Bedford Borough Council involvement, including options for taking the matter further if the resident remains dissatisfied.

c) review the form and use of Keeping Children Safe from Harm documents. The review should take account of the Common Assessment Framework.

SERCO Healthcare should ensure that medical practitioners and other health staff providing services at the IRC are aware of their responsibility to ensure they are familiar with and follow local child protection arrangements including the need to consult a paediatric specialist.

The report’s summary of key findings and conclusions found:

‘5.1 There are four key findings in this Review. Firstly, the lead child protection agencies, the local authority Children’s Services, received information which included evidence of young children, below the age of criminal responsibility, engaged in sexual activity. This should have triggered complex enquiries in respect of two families, under section 47, Children Act, 1989 but the authorities did not respond appropriately.

‘5.2 The local authorities managers and social workers misunderstood the significance which should attach to the age of criminal responsibility in such circumstances. They took the view, in error, that their enquiries into the adequacy of safeguarding arrangements for these children could be limited by the fact that the children could not be the subject of criminal charges. They also misunderstood the concept of “consent’’, believing in error that such young children could be consensually involved in sexual activity. Furthermore, they failed to investigate concerns that older children may also have been involved in the sexual abuse of a child, and that these older young people might pose a continuing threat to other detainees.

‘5.3 The local authority social workers did not interview the mother of a child said to have been abused, failed to liaise adequately with other agencies and did not carry out appropriate checks with other localities. Importantly, the local authorities did not make adequate efforts to secure police involvement in the enquiries.

‘5.4 Non-specialist police did receive information about the situation, as a result of Ms D’s complaints, but they inappropriately terminated police involvement without reference to officers with a specialist child protection background.

‘5.5 Ms D expressed continuing concern about the investigations which had been carried out, but her concerns were, effectively, dismissed by all the agencies involved.

‘5.6 One of the children involved in this situation was seen by a GP from the company employed to deliver some health services to families in detention. The GP failed to recognise that this was a child protection situation and that as such action should have been guided by child protection procedures. After discussion with other professionals, the GP appeared to take an incorrect view that the child should not be seen by a paediatrician.

‘5.7 Secondly, the arrangements for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in detention include the provision of an Independent Social Work Service. This is a separate source of additional social work provided by Bedford Borough Council, through grant arrangements with UKBA. This Service did not challenge the weaknesses and confusion inherent in the approach of the local authorities and GP. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of these arrangements and suggests the role of the workers within the Service should be reviewed.

‘5.8 Thirdly, and similarly, the provision of another tier of social work involvement provided through the Office of the Children’s Champion within UKBA, did not provide any further support to the children in this case in terms of challenging the decisions made by local statutory agencies.

‘5.9 The agencies directly involved in immigration detention, UKBA and SERCO properly took their lead from the local authorities, and their actions should be seen in that light. However, they have a statutory responsibility to exercise safeguarding arrangements. Those arrangements were ultimately ineffective and relied too heavily on the input and decisions of other agencies.

‘5.10 SERCO’s internal “Keeping Children Safe from Harm” (KCSH) arrangements and documentation could usefully be reviewed and updated, to ensure that it keeps pace with national safeguarding guidance and initiatives, such as the Common Assessment Framework.

‘5.11 UKBA provided information, on the basis of which a ministerial decision was made affecting the continued detention of children. Although that factual information included reference to the incident leading to this review, there was no evaluation of the impact that this incident had on the propriety of detention.

‘5.12 None of the agencies involved in this case gave adequate weight to the particular inherent vulnerability of children in detention, nor to the issues of diversity affecting these children and their families.

‘5.13 Fourthly, this review highlights a gap in regulatory arrangements. It appears that no single agency has an adequate overarching responsibility for regulation of services to children in immigration detention.’

The report is an indictment of the Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre and proves that it should be shut down and the detention of families and children should be ended, with them being allowed to live in peace in the community.