One in 10 children in care faces an uncertain future unless immigration status resolved

Local authorities are being urged to do more to identify and address needs of children in care and care leavers with insecure immigration status.

18/02/22

One in 10 children in care faces an uncertain future unless immigration status resolved

At least one in 10 children in care is non-British and faces an uncertain future unless their immigration status is resolved, a new report reveals.

The research, published by South London Refugee Association and Coram Children’s Legal Centre, finds that more than 10,000 young care leavers are also affected.

"Having no immigration status is a trap that it’s hard to escape from,” said Aisha, a CCLC Youth Rights Trainer and care leaver, who was in need of immigration support while a looked after child.

“Without understanding the law, and blocked from being able to work or study, it was hard for me not to feel rejected by the country that raised me.”

Aisha who is now at university and on the road to British citizenship, said: “Knowing that so much could have been done, quicker and with better outcomes, shows how vital it is for local authorities to help children like me as soon as they can.”

Campaigners warn that the scale of the problem could be worse than thought, with more than a third (35%) of the 117 local authorities who answered Freedom of Information requests having missing or incomplete data on the immigration status of children in their care. They are warning that if these children continue to go unidentified, they will not receive the support they are entitled to.

“Local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide children in care with immigration support. Without it, these young people, who are vulnerable and who have already been through so much, cannot plan for their futures and are at risk of destitution and exploitation when they turn 18,” said Maya Pritchard, Policy Manager, South London Refugee Association.

The report also finds that delaying providing help on immigration and nationality issues could be costing local authorities hundreds of thousands of pounds per year.

A citizenship application for a child costs just £1,012, whereas the NRPF Connect Database estimates that waiting to resolve immigration issues until the young person leaves care can cost as much as £130,000 per young person in Home Office fees and support with living when that young person is barred from claiming benefits.

Marianne Lagrue, Policy Manager at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, said that local government funding has been ‘cut to the bone’, but taking decisive steps to resolve looked-after children’s immigration statuses early is a ‘win-win’.

“It’s much less costly for local authorities and serves the best interests of children in care, preventing years of uncertainty for children who desperately need a sense of belonging, stability and permanence.”

Immigration issues can also cause problems for older children in care and care leavers down the line. Campaigners say resolving these issues early means they avoid unnecessary complications with everyday activities like applying for jobs or university, seeking scholarships, grants, or student loans, setting up a bank account, getting a driving licence or renting accommodation.

“Just because my foster carer cared, understood enough, and kept her eyes open meant that I got the help I needed at the right time. The truth is this totally shifted the course of my life,” said Noel, a young care leaver originally from Albania, who claimed asylum in the UK when he was 15. When the Home Office refused his asylum claim, Noel’s foster carer successfully supported him through the process of appealing the decision.

As a result of the research, local authorities are now being urged authorities to sign a pledge, which commits them to identify all looked-after children and care leavers with immigration and nationality issues and connect them with good quality legal support as soon as possible.

The pledge would also commit them to taking a proactive and informed role in supporting looked after children and care leavers through any immigration applications and appeals and enable those who are eligible to apply for permanent status and British citizenship.

Dr Carol Homden CBE, Chief Executive of Coram, said the responsibility of local authorities as corporate parents in this matter cannot be ignored.

“Children who are taken into care in England need their corporate parents to look out for them in every way, including sorting out their immigration status, citizenship and passport. In immigration and nationality law as with so many other areas, early intervention and a proactive approach can change the course of children’s lives, providing permanence and the chance to thrive.”

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