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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Significant harm - the effects of administrative detention on the health of children, young people and their families

Embargoed until 10 December 2009

The Royal Colleges of Paediatrics and Child Health, General Practitioners and Psychiatrists and the UK Faculty of Public Health have published a new policy statement and recommendations on the harms to the physical and mental health of children and young people in the UK who are subjected to administrative immigration detention.

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.

Every year the UK detains 1,000 children in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). These children are members of families identified for enforced removal from Britain, who are detained indefinitely under administrative order without time limit and without judicial oversight. The average length of stay of children in Yarl’s Wood, the UK’s main IRC, is 15 days – but almost a third of children are detained for longer than a month.

Children seeking asylum in the UK are among the most vulnerable in our community with high rates of significant physical and psychological harm reflecting their experience before coming to the UK, dislocation of their families and the challenges of poverty and integration on arrival. These are compounded by the harmful effects of arrest and detention.

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. Meanwhile the joint statement recommends the following immediate actions to minimise the number of children and young people detained and reduce as far as possible the physical and psychological harm caused by detention:

Children and young people in immigration detention should be recognised as Children in Need and given the same safeguards such as Initial Assessment completed within 7 days. The commissioning of healthcare in the detention estate should be transferred from the Home Office to the National Health Service. Primary and secondary medical care for children and their families should be provided on the same in-reach basis as in the prison service.  Such services need to be properly commissioned and resourced. Delivery of care should be provided by healthcare professionals who are competent to respond to the physical and mental health needs of this client group.

Any medical care offered to children and young people in immigration detention should be consistent with what would normally be considered as good practice in other primary care settings including National Health Service general practice. Mental health services for children and young people in immigration detention should be provided based on their current mental health need and not on their immigration status.

Dr Rosalyn Proops, Officer for Child Protection, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health:

“We are very concerned about the health and welfare of children in immigration detention. These children are among the most vulnerable in our communities and detention causes unnecessary harm to their physical and mental health. The current situation is unacceptable and we urge the Government to develop alternatives to detention without delay.”

Professor Steve Field, Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners:

“Children in immigrant families are already disadvantaged and at their most vulnerable. Detaining children for any length of time – often without proper explanation – is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services. As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable. GPs work at the heart of their local communities and are well placed to work with families, agencies and the Government to come up with alternatives that will improve the health and life chances of these children and young people. “

Dr Philip Collins, forensic adolescent psychiatrist representing the Royal College of Psychiatrists:

"The harsh reality about this country's immigration policy is that we are significantly damaging the mental health of many of the children and young people who end up - through no fault of their own - being detained in a prison-like environment by the UK Border Agency. The evidence is clear: this policy directly harms the mental health of children and young people. That is why the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls on the UK Government to end this practice without delay."

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, President of UK Faculty of Public Health:

"This issue goes straight to the very heart of social justice and human rights. We believe it is unfair and wrong to exclude these very vulnerable children and young people from equitable access to normal health and social care. The UK is a civilised nation. Let's demonstrate that by ending this discrimination right now."

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Intercollegiate Briefing Paper: Significant Harm - the effects of immigration detention on the health of children and families in the UK.


Note to editors:

The policy statement is supported by the Association of Child Psychotherapists, British Association of Social Workers, British Psychological Society and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy.


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