Report from Child Abuse & Neglect 33 (2009) 573–585
a b s t r a c t
Objective: The present study aimed to assess the mental and physical health of children held within a British immigration detention center.
Method: A total of 24 detained children (aged 3 months to 17 years) were assessed with their parents or carer after being referred by a registered legal charity. Thirteen were seen by a pediatrician alone, 4 by a psychologist alone, and 7 by both professions using semi-structured clinical interviews. The psychologist also used standardized self-report questionnaires to measure psychopathology.
Results: During the psychological assessment of 11 children, 8 met criteria for psychiatric “caseness” on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. All 11 reported symptoms of depression and anxiety. Sleep problems, somatic complaints, poor appetite, emotional symptoms, and behavioral difficulties were common. Symptoms of global distress were also reported by all 9 parents. According to pediatric assessment 8 out of 20 children had lost weight. Six had missed health appointments and 2 were taken to hospital. Nutritional, developmental, educational, and child protection concerns were raised.
Conclusions: Detained children were found to be experiencing mental and physical health difficulties of recent onset, which appeared to be related to the detention experience. These findings support previous Australian studies demonstrating that detention is not in the best interest of the child. It suggests that current UK policies regarding the detention of children for purposes of immigration control should be re-examined. Further research in the area is required.
Practice implications: Although high levels of mental and physical health problems, as well as child protection concerns were detected, detained families had very limited access to appropriate assessment, support or treatment. The traumatic experience of detention itself also has implications for the sizeable proportion of psychologically distressed children who are eventually released from detention and expected to successfully reintegrate into British society; while those children who are deported are returned with increased vulnerability to future stressors.
Ethical/human rights implications
The current UK practice of detaining children clearly carries both ethical and human rights implications. The British government’s decision to place a reservation on Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child meant that the government failed to meet its international obligations to protect the rights of all children. Although in 2008 the UK government decided to remove this reservation, it is not yet clear what impact, if any, this will have on the government’s ongoing practice of detaining children subject to immigration control. As of yet there have not been any noticeable improvements inthe way children subject to immigration control are being treated in the UK. Concerns recently expressed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMIP, 2008), the UK Children’s Commissioners (UK Children’s Commissioners, 2008), and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 2008) still have not been adequately addressed.
This study’s findings demonstrate that the rights promised under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are not afforded to children in detention particularly in relation to best interest (Article 3), responsibilities and rights of parents (Article 5), separation from parents against their will (Article 9), the right of families to be together (Article 10), and detention as a measure of last resort (Article 37). In addition, the detention of children fails to meet the British government’s own policy targets as set out in 2004, which aims to ensure that all children living in the UK have the right to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy, achieve, make a positive contribution, and access education so that they can achieve future economic wellbeing (Her Majesty’s Government, 2003).
We concur with the UK Children’s Commissioners report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child which states that “The child’s best interests are not a primary consideration in immigration decisions. Immigration control takes priority over human rights obligations to children seeking asylum and their families”
(UK Children’s Commissioners, 2008, p. 30).
© 2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
The mental and physical health difficulties of children held within a British immigration detention center: A pilot study
Ann Lorek-a,∗, Kimberly Ehntholt-c, Anne Nesbitt-d, Emmanuel Wey-b, Chipo Githinji -b,
Eve Rossor-b, Rush Wickramasinghe-b
a Mary Sheridan Centre for Child Health, Lambeth Community Health, SE11 4TH, UK
b Mary Sheridan Centre for Child Health, Lambeth Primary Care Trust, London, UK
c Traumatic Stress Clinic, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
d City and Hackney Primary Care Trust, London, UK