Will ACAT Join Other Professional Bodies in Calling for an End to the Detention of Families with Children?

Toye, J., 2010. Will ACAT Join Other Professional Bodies in Calling for an End to the Detention of Families with Children?. Reformulation, Summer, pp.47-48.


For the past year and more there have been numerous widely reported calls on the Government to end its practice of detaining families with children for the purpose of removing them from the UK. The Children’s Commissioner Sir Al Aynesley-Green has twice called on the Government to end the practice, most recently in February this year.

In December 2009 there was a joint briefing from the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Royal College of General Practitioners and the Faculty of Public Health:

“The three Royal Colleges and the UK Faculty of Public Health believe that the administrative immigration detention of children, young people and their families is harmful and unacceptable and call on the Government to see this issue as a matter of priority and stop detaining children without delay...Other countries have developed viable alternatives to children being held in administrative immigration detention. Now the three Royal Colleges and the UK Faculty of Public Health call for the UK to follow suit as soon as possible.”

The main immigration removal centre in the UK with family accommodation is Yarl’s Wood IRC in Bedfordshire. A private contractor, Serco Group, runs it and also manages the Health Centre. In May 2008 the Children’s Commissioner found that children’s physical and mental health rarely appeared to inform the decision to continue detention. He said that almost all detained children suffer injury to their mental and physical health as a result of their detention, sometimes seriously. Many children experience the actual process of being arrested and detained as a new traumatising experience. Psychiatrists, paediatricians and GPs, as well as social workers and psychologists, frequently find evidence of harm, especially psychological, as a result of detention. Reported child mental health difficulties include emotional and psychological regression, PTSD, clinical depression and suicidal behaviour. Physical consequences include weight loss and inadequate pain relief for children with sickle cell disease.

Each year the UK detains around 1,000 children in Immigration Removal Centres. These children are members of families identified for enforced removal from Britain, who are detained indefinitely under administrative order. They have committed no crime but can be detained without time limit and without judicial oversight. The children range in age from very young babies to older teenagers, as well as so-called ‘age disputed minors’ who are alone.

The average length of detention of children is 15 days. On 30 June 2009, 10 of the 35 children in detention had been held for over a month. Less than half of the children leaving detention are removed from the country. There are no data on how many children undergo more than one episode of detention, though repeated arrest and detention is likely to be particularly traumatising.

There is no evidence that families run away from the authorities if they are not detained. As anyone with children will know, their education and health needs, friendship ties and the desire to be settled in the UK all prevent families ‘disappearing’. It costs £130 every day to keep a child in immigration detention. The Children’s Society regularly work with children who are detained for over six weeks. To keep a family of four in detention for six weeks costs over £20,000. Alternatives to detention are available. They are cheaper and are successfully used in other countries.

The Children’s Society and Bail for Immigration Detainees has set up a campaign called Outcry! www.outcrycampaign.org.uk to work towards ending the detention of children. On their website you will find many accounts by detainees – parents and children – of how being in detention has affected them. Here is one example:

“Well, the children were in school, I was doing well, I was getting counseling and I was just getting past the - you know what I went through at home. [Since being at Yarl’s Wood] my eldest son is the one who is not really well because he’s been telling his teachers, his friends, he just wants to end it all. So that’s why the psychiatric nurses have come in now to his school. In detention, he was very worried, very afraid and you know with my son it’s a thing of like ‘why us mum, why us?’ you know ‘why is this happening to us?’ Because he’s never had any of his mates in such a situation, he’s never seen it before. So he’s feeling isolated. Because he’s now at school, the teachers have told me, he’s withdrawn, he keeps struggling with schoolwork, whereas before he was a brilliant pupil. But now he’s really struggling because he really is behind in his work. In detention, he was not eating at all, he was all bony when we came out, he just used to eat the noodles in the little tuck shop and that’s all he used to eat. I mean he’s been through so much from all the way home and what is happening, because now he’s nearly a teenager so he’s not taking well to all what is happening to him.”

(Mother detained twice with her daughter and two sons, the second time for nearly ten weeks)
www.childrenssociety.org.uk/OutCry!/

Individuals can sign up personally to the campaign on the website. From time to time you will receive requests to take a particular action, for instance to write to your local newspaper using material provided on the site. Outcry! is also asking for professional bodies, trades unions and so on to back the campaign. Those who have signed up already include UKCP and Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR). The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has offered its support to the ‘Outcry’ campaign, initiated by the Children’s Society. BACP states that “detaining children can have a damaging effect on their psychological wellbeing”.

While it may be argued that ACAT is already included because we are a member organization of UKCP, we are also an organization in our own right. Moreover practitioner members are not covered by UKCP.

Janet Toye is a CAT psychotherapist who, prior to retirement, worked in an NHS clinical psychology outpatient department. Since then she has worked mainly with people on a resettlement programme for the homeless, while separately taking part in campaigning on behalf of asylum seekers.

Full Reference

Toye, J., 2010. Will ACAT Join Other Professional Bodies in Calling for an End to the Detention of Families with Children?. Reformulation, Summer, pp.47-48.

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