Yes, there is much in what the hon. Gentleman says. First, of course those detained will often do everything that they can to seek to remain, and if they have families with them, inevitably that will lengthen their time in a detention centre. Secondly, as he said, alternatives might therefore be sought. However, I will come to that later. I know that alternatives have been piloted and that there is much to be done there.
I am sure, however, that the hon. Gentleman would share with me the central principle that was well put in a briefing from the Refugee Council, with which I did a session on this issue during the party conference last year. It produced two relevant quotes about the detention of children. First, in December 2009, a briefing paper entitled "Significant Harm", which was published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, recommended that the practice of detaining children cease "without delay".
Anne Owers, in her February 2008 inspection report, wrote:
"The plight of detained children remained of great concern. While child welfare services had improved, an immigration removal centre can never be a suitable place for children and we were dismayed to find cases of disabled children being detained and some children spending large amounts of time incarcerated. We were concerned about ineffective and inaccurate monitoring of length of detention in this extremely important area. Any period of detention can be detrimental to children and their families, but the impact of lengthy detention is particularly extreme".
The IMB report made the following pertinent comment:
"The IMB acknowledges the dedication, kindness and patience of staff involved in the care of children and families at Yarl's Wood. However, we remain extremely concerned about the detention of children. We highlight, inter alia, the length of detention, late night and early morning movements and the disruption to older children's education."
I echo the comments made by the IMB, because the issue is not just what happens at the centre. The trained staff who work there especially with children do the best that they can. They have to cope with a fluctuating population and great age differences, and they have to deal with children in the situation in which they have arrived. We have met children who were in school for long periods, but who were taken out shortly before examinations and therefore unable to complete them. They are completely disorientated: they have lost friends and loved ones, and have no certainty about what will happen to them. All that has to be taken into account in how those children are dealt with. This is not the time or place to go into how the UK Border Agency handles some of those issues of movement-they tell their own story. I simply quote the statistics for how long some children are there and the impact that that has to impress on the Minister my next point, which is that we have to work even harder for alternatives to detention for children.
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