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  • 27 Jul 2022

Lifeline offered to thousands of young people leaving care with insecure immigration status

Providing help to young people leaving care with uncertainty looming over their immigration status, can improve lives, save money, and strengthen the system of wider support, finds a new report published by the National Children’s Bureau.

The research, funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, followed the work of four charity projects over the course of three years, as they worked with local authorities to support young people leaving care with insecure immigration status.

It is estimated that nearly 19,000[1] looked after children and young care leavers in England have not had their immigration status resolved.

These young people are at risk of losing their entitlement to housing, benefits and access to work and higher education if they are not given the right support whilst still in the care of the local authority.

Care leavers can have insecure immigration status for many different reasons. Some arrive in this country as unaccompanied asylum seekers or victims of human trafficking, while many others have been taken into care from families subject to immigration control in the UK.

Often left deeply traumatised by their experiences in their home country, their journey to the UK or within our borders, these young people often struggle to cope. Mental health difficulties can further hamper how they engage in the complicated process of resolving their immigration status.

Researchers highlighted how the projects being studied helped these young people get back on their feet. This included giving expert guidance on the immigration and asylum systems, but also offering holistic support to improve young people’s wellbeing, mental health and ability to engage with services.

The research showed that this type of early intervention work to identify and address the needs of these young people can help avoid costs later on which would normally be borne by local authorities. Researchers estimated that these savings could be as much as £100k for just one young person. If these figures are multiplied by the number of young people with insecure immigration status supported by the local authorities, the potential cost savings are significant.

Young people described how they benefited from the projects, helping them to understand their rights whilst supporting them to engage in informal support networks, and access education and training opportunities.

Crucially, the projects enabled local authorities to better meet the needs of young people with insecure immigration status under their care. Local authorities particularly valued training for professionals and carers, and support for social workers and personal advisors on individual cases.

Holly Donagh, Director of Strategic Learning, Insight and Influence at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, said:

“This research shows that embedding voluntary sector expertise on migration within local authority children’s services improves outcomes for young people with insecure immigration status. Early intervention is key, so that immigration issues are identified and resolved before a young person turns 18, thereby enabling them to lay down roots and thrive in the UK.

“It also saves significant sums of money for local authorities because the charities support young people to resolve their immigration cases more quickly, and avoid years of unnecessary accommodation and legal costs. We are delighted that the outcomes have been so positive and there is much to be learnt about these successful models of practice up and down the UK.”

A key aspect of the approaches developed by the charity projects was organising a range of activities to give young people a voice, so they can influence the system they rely on. Co-producing services is important as often these young people’s trust in the system has been severely undermined.

Frances Lyons, Head of Research at the National Children’s Bureau, said:

“These young people are becoming independent adults with no certainty over their future in the UK. If they can’t navigate the bewildering bureaucracy of the immigration system, their problems will deepen and social care services will be left to pick up the pieces.

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has set out a roadmap for improving children’s social care, but this vision will never be achieved unless the Government allocates the funds required to put it into practice. This must include funding for effective support for young people leaving care with insecure immigration status, building on this evidence of what works.”


‘Supporting care leavers with insecure immigration status: Learning on effective support, collaboration and influence’ can be downloaded from the NCB website 


[1]South London Refugee Association and Coram Children’s Legal Centre (2021). Taking Care: How local authorities can best address immigration issues of children in care.