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'Harmful, unethical' - detention of immigrant children

Thursday December 10th, 2009

British treatment of children of illegal immigrants is "harmful and unacceptable", a powerful group of senior clinicians say today.

Three Royal medical colleges issued a joint statement called for radical changes to the care of children in detention centres such as Yarl's Wood.

About a 1,000 children every year spend time in the centres as their families await deportation. Many of them are unsuccessful asylum seekers.

Nearly a third spend longer than a month in a centre.

The colleges representing paediatricians, GPs and psychiatrists were backed by the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Nursing.

The joint statement calls for an end to the detention of children and sets out measures to improve the care of children who are detained. The colleges say other countries have found alternatives.

This includes ensuring the NHS manages health services in the centres, using competent healthcare professionals.

It says children should be recognised as "children in need" and subject to social care assessment. And they should receive mental health services based on need, not on immigration status.

Dr Rosalyn Proops, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "These children are among the most vulnerable in our communities and detention causes unnecessary harm to their physical and mental health. The current situation is unacceptable and we urge the Government to develop alternatives to detention without delay."

The RCGP chairman Professor Steve Field added: "Detaining children for any length of time – often without proper explanation – is a terrifying experience that can have lifelong consequences. As well as the potential psychological impact, these children invariably experience poor physical health as they cannot access immunisation and preventative services.

"As a civilised society, we cannot sit back and allow these practices to continue – they are unethical and unacceptable."

The Royal College of Nursing said its members had witnessed "mental and physical decline" in children subject to detention.

Chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: "We call on the Government to introduce an alternative system which prioritises the wellbeing of children and young people.

"It is also vital that all children detained in the UK have access to a registered children's nurse who has the appropriate training and support to ensure their mental and physical health needs are met."

Tags: Child Health | Mental Health | Nursing & Midwifery | UK News | World Health

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