BID: Separation of families

Earlier this year, BID produced Fractured Childhoods, a report on what happens to children and families when parents are held in immigration detention without time limit. Theresa May’s speech of 30th September further outlined the Government’s plans to prevent people, including parents in detention, from appealing their deportation from the UK. BID is working with other charities which support migrants and children to oppose these changes.

We are also raising the issue with parliamentarians. Before and during parliament’s summer recess, in response to the publication of BID’s Fractured Childhoods report, several peers asked the Government questions about the separation of families. Questions were asked by Baroness Lister and Lord Ramsbotham; Lord Hylton asked two questions which you can read here and here. The matter was also raised in a parliamentary debate by Lord Judd.

First UK study finds 200 children split from parents in immigration detention

The first UK study of its kind, published by BID today, examines the cases of 111 parents who were separated from 200 children by immigration detention. The UK Border Agency repeatedly failed to safeguard children when detaining their parents, with appalling consequences for the children concerned. (Click here to download the report : ‘Fractured Childhoods: the separation of families by immigration detention’)


  • 85 of these children were in fostering arrangements or local authority care during their parent’s detention.
  • Children lost weight, had nightmares, suffered from insomnia, cried frequently and became extremely isolated during their parents’ detention.
  • Some children moved between unstable care arrangements, were neglected, and were placed at risk of serious harm.
  • Parents were detained without time limit, for an average of 270 days.
  • In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released, their detention having served no purpose.
  • In 15 cases, parents were deported or removed from the UK without their children.

More detailed data were gathered for a smaller sample of 27 families with 53 children:


  • 30 of these 53 children were British Citizens; many were born and grew up in the UK.
  • 11 children were two years old or less when their parent was detained, and 31 children were between three and 10 years old.

The UK Border Agency has a legal duty to safeguard children (1). However, examination of parents’ legal files showed that in a number of cases the Border Agency failed to take basic steps to protect children.


In two cases, the Border Agency forcibly deported single parents from the UK, leaving their children in the UK in care. In one of these cases, the Border Agency did not find out whether the children were in a safe care arrangement before deporting their father.


In another case, the Border Agency deported a mother who was three months pregnant without her husband and two children. The agency argued that her children were ‘content to remain in the UK under their father and stepfather’s care.’ During her detention, this mother’s 10 year old son was receiving support from a mental health service, who described him as ‘incredibly distressed’ about her absence. Children’s Services said that ‘the current situation where [his mother] is not living in the family home has resulted in [this child] feeling unsafe.’


Sarah Campbell, Research and Policy Manager at Bail for Immigration Detainees, commented:


‘This report reveals the hidden scandal of children being separated from their parents by the UK Border Agency. Children described their despair and misery at not knowing when or if they would see their parent again. The Border Agency displayed a callous indifference in continuing to detain parents, despite in some cases having clear evidence that children were extremely distressed or being neglected. The government must immediately end the inhumane practice of separating children from their parents for immigration purposes.’


Most, but not all, of the parents in this study had committed criminal offences. 14 of the 15 parents who were deported or removed without their children had committed offences. In 12 cases, parents had committed non-violent offences, and four of these were immigration offences such as possession of false documents. The research revealed very serious problems with the Border Agency overestimating the risk that parents would re-offend (2).


For more information, please contact Sarah Campbell on 0207 650 0727


Notes to Editors:

(1) The UK Border Agency has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under s55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 see:

(2) Detailed data were gathered for a sample of 27 parents, three of whom were deported or removed from the UK at the end of their detention. In 14 out of 27 cases, it was possible to obtain information about how the National Offender Management Service has assessed parents’ risk of reoffending or risk of harm to the public on release. In 10 cases, parents were assessed as posing a low risk, and four parents were assessed as posing a medium risk. However, the Border Agency repeatedly argued that these parents needed to be detained as they posed a ‘significant’ and ‘unacceptable’ risk.