Rigby P, Fotopoulou M, Rogers A & Manta A (2018) Responding to Unaccompanied Minors in Scotland: Policy and Local Authority Perspectives. University of Stirling. Stirling: University of Stirling.
Following the provisions of the 2016 Immigration Act to permit the transfer of unaccompanied children the Scottish Government, COSLA, and local authorities have entered into negotiations with the Home Office to facilitate the arrival of children and young people to Scotland The present research sought to explore the capacity, experience and understanding of local authorities to provide a support system that can best ensure the wellbeing of children, as it has been suggested that outside of the large urban authorities there is limited experience of working with separated children.
The study planned to conduct a survey across all 32 Scottish local authorities; undertake a qualitative analysis of key policy and guidance and to conduct focus group interviews with professionals in the field to explore in depth the findings of the first two stages. Due to access and engagement issues it was not possible to do focus group interviews. The findings of the report are based on the return of 14 questionnaires (44% of local authorities in Scotland) and a policy analysis of four key documents. As such the findings can be described as indicative, further work is required to explore further a number of the key issues identified.
The Bacchian policy analysis indicated that some of the key guidance documents for local authorities and professionals are reluctant to engage with the more complex issues relating to children on the move, especially any reflection on the societal and geo-political reasons why children migrate in the first instance. Coupled with this there is also indication of language in documents that problematises routes of arrival that are not considered ‘legal’ and ‘safe’ thereby creating deserving and undeserving arrivals. Within the context of the documents there is concern that children are either characterised as either children or asylum seekers, when in fact they are both. While the guidance is useful for process and procedure, overall, the broader contextual analysis of children’s decisions to move is largely omitted, such that any ethical or sociological understanding of needs and responses is minimised.
Local authorities are reporting higher numbers of unaccompanied children coming in to care with the number of local authorities who have over 10 in their care increasing; while official statistics are rarely published for the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Scotland, it is estimated that at present local authorities are looking after approximately 140 separated children. For those local authorities that have larger numbers of children, there is greater familiarity with the processes and procedures, both in relation to immigration and welfare issues and legislation. Across all authorities there is some inconsistency in guidance consulted, with little indication of specific guidance in relation to unaccompanied children in use universally. Age assessments were the most common assessment undertaken by local authorities, although only three local authorities indicated they had consulted age assessment guidance. There was clear recognition of the needs presented by children and local authorities indicated they drew on the expertise of a number of partner agencies to support children and young people.
While the present findings are limited by the number of local authorities responding, they indicate that understanding and responses to key issues and policy guidance varies substantially across local authorities in Scotland. These findings indicate children and young people may well receive different levels of service in different areas, with implications for both short and long term outcomes. While there is evidence of good work across the country, key questions remain about consistency and further, more in depth analysis of practice is required.