In autumn 2018, we started talking to local authorities across the North West about how they support children in care and care leavers with insecure immigration status. Funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (alongside Bristol Refugee Rights, The Children’s Society and PAFRAS in Leeds, and South London Refugee Association) we wanted to know how local authorities understood their duties to this group of children and young people. We wanted to know what systems they had in place to support them, and how we could work together to improve them.
Our conversations were promising but weren’t getting the traction we wanted. So, at the start of 2019 we reframed the issues and started talking about the impact of Brexit. How were local authorities in the North West going to identify which of their children and young people would have their immigration status affected by Brexit? How would they connect them with legal advice, and ensure that children in care and care leavers could make immigration applications – to the EU Settlement Scheme or for British citizenship?
We’ve spent the last two years working with social workers and personal advisers: trawling spreadsheets to identify affected children, co-producing guidance and delivering training, developing a tracking tool for social work teams. We’ve supported directors of children’s services to understand and measure the performance of their services. We’ve worked with Manchester City Council on a pledge to speak out in support of children and young people. And we’ve worked with the Department for Education and the Home Office, using research to show that children in care and care leavers are being left behind by the EU Settlement Scheme.
As we hurtle towards the Scheme’s deadline, Home Office data shows that only 46% of the UK’s children in care and care leavers identified by local authorities as affected by Brexit immigration changes have applied to the Scheme. Those who do not make successful applications by 30 June 2020 will be in the UK unlawfully. And yet, despite the statistics, and despite the delays of COVID-19, the Home Office keeps to its timetable. There is no wavering from the deadline or listening to demands for these children to get automatic status.
And so, our conversations with local authorities have turned back to 2018: how do they best support children in care and care leavers with insecure immigration status? We still need an all-out push to support as many applications to the EU Settlement Scheme as possible before June. But local authorities are realising that come July, these children will still be their responsibility. Some won’t have been identified in time, some will be born too late for the deadline, some will be refused status because of youth offending. They will join the young people local authorities also have responsibility for – those who have had their asylum claim refused, who have never had their immigration status regularised, who are British in all but paperwork.
We will spend the next five months supporting local authorities so that as few children in care and care leavers as possible miss out. (The response to our latest training suggests there is still so much, too much, to do. Two days after we advertised it, 60 social workers and personal advisers from around the country signed up for advice about how to understand Brexit immigration changes. The Scheme has been open for nearly two years.) And we’ll keep talking about the best ways to support children in care and care leavers with insecure immigration status, because it’s a conversation that has never been more needed.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter.