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The benefits of providing better support for care leavers with insecure immigration status

A new report evaluating support for care leavers with insecure immigration status has found innovative work in the face of many contextual challenges.

11/08/22

The benefits of providing better support for care leavers with insecure immigration status

The National Children’s Bureau (NCB) evaluation explored the approaches of four projects and their impact, with its findings intended to inform the work of local authorities, charities and their funders in improving support for all care leavers with insecure immigration status.

Previous research has suggested that at least 18,934, approximately 15 per cent, of all looked after children and care leavers in England have a potential unresolved immigration status. Young people with insecure immigration status, particularly those seeking asylum, faced a wide range of challenges prior to coming to the UK which continued to impact on them when they arrived in the UK.

“Whilst many of these young people expressed positive aspirations to contribute to society, experiences of traumatic events in their home country or on their way to the UK impacted on their coping mechanisms and their ability to engage in a timely manner with key immigration processes to resolve their status,” the report said.

These challenges were made worse by a lack of trust in authorities; inconsistent quality of legal representation and an inability to work and/or the limited availability of opportunities to engage in educational or social activities often resulting in young people suffering from poor emotional health and wellbeing.

The report also highlighted difficulties for local authorities, including identifying young people who needed support, adding that it was particularly difficult to identify those who, despite being taken into care from their families in the UK, still had unresolved immigration issues.

The report said that there was also a lack of detailed knowledge amongst social workers and personal advisors of how to interpret asylum and immigration law provisions alongside a lack of confidence amongst these professionals in providing support.

“If you’re only dealing with perhaps one asylum seeker in a caseload of 18… you might struggle to have the time to know what you need to know in order to be able to support them, and... it’s such a life-changing thing,” one local authority worker said.

In response to these challenges, the report recommends that local authorities provide specialist casework and immigration advice (or making appropriate referrals) to fill in existing gaps in provision. It also proposes delivering holistic support to young people to help them adjust to their new environment and develop resilience and coping mechanisms.

The projects looked at in the research were found to have worked effectively due to their ability to provide expert guidance to navigate the immigration and asylum systems.

“All project staff teams collectively had a high level of knowledge and expertise on the legal requirements and processes required at each stage,” the report said. “This was particularly useful for non-asylum-seeking young people with insecure immigration status, as the appropriate routes to settlement were generally less commonly understood and relevant processes even less familiar for social workers.”

The projects were also effective at building trust with young people due to their independence from statutory bodies which helped to address power imbalances. They were also able to provide translation services wherever possible and provided interpreters for specific meetings. They were also evaluated to be able to better support young people’s mental health needs and provide holistic support.

The research, which was commissioned by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, looked at four projects working with local authorities to train professionals and carers and advise social workers.

“Feedback from the PAs and social workers is that… having that opportunity to troubleshoot [is] worth its weight in gold [because if] you can go online, it’s a minefield sometimes to try and pinpoint what you need to do… with a certain case,” one local authority worker said.

The report found “significant potential cost savings” to local authorities, stemming from the work of the projects. Based on a selection of 8 scenarios that unfolded for young people supported by the projects, researchers found cost savings between just over £7,000 and more than £100,000 for each case.

“If these figures are multiplied by the number of young people with insecure immigration status supported by local authorities, the potential cost savings are significant. Local authorities, with the support of charities, can avoid the vast majority of these costs by acting early to address young people’s immigration status before they turn 18,” the report said.

The Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU), one of the projects looked at in the report, said in a statement on its website: “It is of vital importance that young people do not enter adulthood and leave care without having status in the UK – without it they will find themselves at the mercy of the Hostile Environment, unable to work, rent, enter higher education and build their adult life. But we found that often children and the people looking after them were not aware that their immigration status was insecure, and so no one was warning of the consequences before it was too late.

“That’s why our work was not only to help individual young people by linking them with the legal support we could offer, but to help the local authority to embed new ways of working to help future care leavers as well. Working closely with us, the local authority publicly pledged to support young people who needed help with their immigration status.”

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