The Migrant Children’s Project has published a new report, ‘Navigating the System: Advice provision for young refugees and migrants‘. The report looks at the complex administrative and legal processes that separated children have to navigate and the range of professionals who can offer advice and guidance to them. Drawing on interviews with practitioners and cases from the Coram Children’s Legal Centre’s work with migrant children, the report finds that many legal advice and support services are under strain, facing serious financial challenges and an uncertain future, putting these children and young people at risk. Read the full report or the report summary:
One way that advice provision to migrant children and young people can be improved is by ensuring that they are able to access good legal representation by lawyers with appropriate expertise. This may involve, for example, providing better guidance and training to professionals working with children in how to locate good legal representatives, how to recognise poor quality provision, and what to do when a child or young person is unhappy with the representation they have received.
For those children and young people who under current proposals are set to lose out on legal aid, it will be of great importance that where local authorities are required to pay private fees for them, the local authority seeks out high quality providers and not those charging the lowest rates.
Another area that requires attention is supporting those who have been wrongly denied public funding to pursue their cases.
Another possible way to think about improving advice provision to young migrants – including those who may not otherwise access advice – is to look to increasing provision through advice surgeries and outreach work. Providing advice in this way has a number of advantages, including reaching hard-to-reach groups. Advice surgeries and outreach work cannot, however, provide a substitute for full representation.
A further option for legal advice provision is to move away from legal aid funding. Incorporating pro bono work from private law firms could provide one possibility. Some organisations may seek funding to do immigration and asylum casework without relying on the Legal Services Commission or private fees, or may top up their publicly funded work with other sources of funding.
An important direction for future research would be an assessment of how migrant children and young people feel about the advice they need, the advice they receive and where they receive it from, and any areas where they feel they are not getting adequate advice and support.
Understanding children and young people’s perceptions of their advice needs should drive improvements in advice provision.
In writing this report, it was evident that there are a number of dedicated professionals working with separated children and young people who are keen to provide the best service they can. But they are working in a challenging climate, and while together we can explore options to ‘fill the gaps’ in provision, there is a limit to what can be done to address the full impact of funding cuts, and discriminatory policy and practice, without further changes at a national level. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that young refugee and migrants are supported and protected, and budgetary constraints cannot be used as a means of shirking this responsibility. The introduction of a guardianship system is one way in which the government could ensure that it is upholding these legal standards, as would be further measures to ensure that all children and young people are able to access free quality legal advice and representation, and thus ensure their access to protection and justice. What is needed from central and local government alike is an open commitment to affording young refugees and migrants equal rights and treatment under UK and international law.