In her report, ‘Unaccompanied children in need of care’ the Children’s Commissioner uses data from the Home Office to demonstrate why the Home Office power to accommodate unaccompanied children, as set out in the Illegal Migration Act, must never come into force. The report outlines the Home Office data as follows:
- There was data available for a total of, 5,298 children housed in hotels between July 2021 - May 2023.
- The Home Office is unable to confirm whether relevant safeguarding referrals are made for children, or whether they had seen a healthcare professional, either for an Initial Health Assessment or otherwise
- From the available data, a total of 259 cases of infectious disease were recorded, including scabies, tuberculosis, diphtheria, monkey pox and Covid-19 recorded. If initial health assessments are not happening for all children, these figures are likely to be much higher.
- There are also concerning references to children with physical and learning disabilities living in hotels. There were 18 mentions of disability or additional needs including autism, 24 notes pertaining to hearing loss or deafness, and 9 references to vision loss or blindness. There was no indication from the Home Office as to how these needs are accommodated for in accommodation.
In response to the stark findings, RCPCH President, Dr Camilla Kingdon, said:
I am stunned to find that the Home Office is unable to confirm whether the children in their care had any safeguarding referrals, or even if they had received healthcare support. This is very basic information and the fact that our Home Office does not have it readily available is alarming. These unaccompanied children have often experienced unimaginable horrors. This makes them some of the most vulnerable members of society. The duty of care by the Home Office therefore is unquestionable.
Every unaccompanied child seeking asylum or refuge has a right to an Initial Health Assessment. By not being able to confirm whether children have even seen a health care professional before arriving or while staying at a hotel, the Home Office is potentially breaking their statutory duty to provide this. Children seeking asylum often have complex needs and our members have told us first-hand how vital these initial health checks are for identifying unmet health needs, including ongoing infections, diabetes, and other chronic conditions, and- in the most worrying cases- untreated cancer. These checks are important for both public health and the long-term health outcomes for this vulnerable population.
This data is especially concerning in the context of the sheer volume of children who have gone missing whilst under the Home Office’s care. I am once again reminding our political leaders that we have a moral and legal duty of care to these children. They must do better.