Not Every Child Matters

February 17, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | 7 Comments
Yarl's Wood

A drawing by a child at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, taken from the Children's Commissioner's report. You can probably work out the message.

When you govern to get rid of bad headlines, you shouldn’t really be surprised when your policies contradict each other.

In 2001 the government responded to hysteria over ‘bogus’ asylum seekers by opening Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre; a clearing house for folks whose asylum claims had been rejected and were therefore to be deported back to their countries of origin.

In its nine miserable years, Yarl’s Wood has experienced suicides and self-harming, riots, hunger strikes, a fire and the quite damning verdict that it was unsafe for the families being held there. Of course, none of this has deterred Labour from incarcerating men, women and children in facilities like this for however long the UK Border Agency sees fit.

A few years later, in response to the horrendous death of Victoria Climbie, the government passed the Children Act, which established in law that services for children must incorporate Every Child Matters into its policy and practice. For the first time, every child, regardless of their circumstances, should have the support to: stay healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution to society and have some measure of economic well-being.

On the evidence provided by the Children’s Commissioner, the detention of children at Yarl’s Wood is incompatible with the standards set out in Every Child Matters. The failure to address or even assess a child’s psychological well-being, the shoddy medical record-keeping, the traumatic and often heavy-handed way removals are carried-out, and the prospect of indefinite detention all stand in contravention of Yarl’s Wood’s obligation to keep children safe and healthy. What should trouble the most is that standards have actually improved – I dread to think what they were like before.

Sir Al Aynsley-Green’s conclusion that children at Yarl’s Wood suffer great mental distress only confirms reports, both anecdotal and academic, that it is not fit to look after them. This study (PDF) found children suffering from a range of mental health problems, which manifested as anxiety, depression, wetting the bed, soiling themselves, having problems sleeping and even displaying abnormally sexualised behaviour. By the standards of the Children Act – by the standards of our civic morality – we cannot tolerate detention when it damages them so profoundly.

If Every Child Matters is to mean anything, it has to mean that every single child, regardless of their circumstances or background, should be protected from physical and mental harm. The detention of the children at Yarl’s Wood demonstrates the shallowness of Labour’s commitment to that aim; no, not every child matters. In fact, those that matter the least are the most vulnerable.

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7 Comments »

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  1. Another excellent and needed commentary. Yarl’s Wood is a festering sore and has been since it’s inception. The treatment of women who recently went on hunger strike has been extraordinary in it’s barbarity, even by uk border control standards. See here for details : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/hunger-strike-women-detention-yarls-wood-protest

    • Cheers mate, and I’ve probably been remiss in not writing about this sooner. The thing which really sticks in the throat is the justification, given by the head of UK Border agency (http://bit.ly/cuziax), that all this is necessary to act as a deterrant for people thinking of claiming asylum.

      Quite apart from the fact that our system is already so cruel that we’re content to send gay teenagers back to Iran, armed only with the advice that they keep their sexuality hidden, how many people fleeing persecution are running up a bloody cost-benefit analysis and factoring the presence of detention centres as a reason to avoid the UK? I mean, I wish for their sake that they could do that, but it ain’t happening.

  2. […] not in the mood for hyperventilating this afternoon, and nothing new will be gained by just restating my belief that Yarl’s Wood should close immediately, with an apology offered to all who’ve been […]

  3. Thanks for this. We posted a related piece, linking Yarl’s Wood to Argentina’s Dirty Wars: http://www.womeninandbeyond.org/?p=623.

  4. […] new will be gained by me just restating my belief that Yarl’s Wood should close immediately, with an apology offered to all who’ve been […]

  5. […] Instead we detain them in terrible conditions, ensure that this frosty welcome is also extended to children and then have the gall to attack them for living a cushy life (search the Mail website, I […]

  6. […] Instead we detain them in terrible conditions, ensure that this frosty welcome is also extended to children and then have the gall to attack them for living a cushy life (search the Mail website, I […]


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