Scottish Guardianship Service

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 June 2013.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06960, in the name of Aileen Campbell, on the Scottish guardianship service, a celebration of success.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Today’s debate about the Scottish guardianship service for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people, which is leading in its model of guardianship in the United Kingdom and across large parts of Europe, is timely for three reasons. First, next week is refugee week. This year’s theme celebrates the diverse cultures and heritage that make Scotland the place that it is today—I will touch on that theme later. Secondly, today’s Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations awards ceremony has the Scottish guardianship service shortlisted for a partnership award. Thirdly, yesterday the Joint Committee on Human Rights recognised the lessons that can be learned, across the UK, from this Scottish service unique to these islands.

I am proud to lead a debate that I know will gain the support of us all, across the chamber, on a service that shows Scotland at its best, leading the way, and our ambition for Scotland to be the best place to grow up extends to those who make Scotland their home.

I want to put on record my thanks to all those who have worked tirelessly for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children: the Refugee Council; Aberlour, which manages the guardianship project; Barnardo’s; the Mungo Foundation; and many others across Scotland, including Glasgow City Council’s social work department.

So, what is the system all about? The service allocates guardians to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who find themselves in Scotland. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on how scary, frightening and daunting it is for someone to arrive in a country that they probably know nothing about and whose language they may not even speak, where all the while they are on their own. On top of that, they then need to embrace the policies and laws governing asylum and immigration.

The guardians help children and young people to make sense of the complex and often overwhelming systems and processes around asylum and welfare that they have to face immediately upon arrival in this country. They form a single point of contact where information can be pulled together; the roles of the different agencies working with the child can be explained; and all that can be repeated until the child fully understands what is going on. The guardians do that in a way that gains the child’s trust, gratitude and friendship. They provide a voice for the young person until they are empowered enough to speak for themselves.

That is in sharp contrast to the situation that was highlighted in 2005 by Kathleen Marshall, who was Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People at the time. She noted that there was a lack of support or of robust systems in place to cope with the emerging presence of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Glasgow, alongside the emotive issues around the detention of children for immigration purposes and dawn raids.

I have had the pleasure of meeting and listening to some of the young people who have been helped by the guardians. Although they have now made Scotland their home, it is still painful to learn about what some people have had to endure during their young lives. Through one of the therapeutic art projects that they had participated in, they conveyed to me their aspirations to become a mechanic, a professional football player—even a politician, of all things—as well as many other dreams and aspirations that had been made possible because of the guardianship service.

I want to take a wee moment to share with members Paul’s story. He came to this country when he was 16 and was allocated a guardian. Initially, Paul was very confused and scared and found it difficult to speak about his experiences. It took a long time to build trust with people, and that was not helped by a difficult age assessment. Paul now has a great relationship with his guardian and continues to come for advice on a vast range of different subjects. He has become a good role model for other young people in the service, and is clearly a very popular young man. The change that the guardians have observed in Paul is striking: he is now confident, articulate and very motivated to make something of his life. To illustrate that point, he co-hosted a recent Scottish guardianship service conference that I attended and spoke incredibly well. He has now got a place at the University of Strathclyde to study product design and will have much to offer to Scotland. What a talent and what an asset for Scotland.

Such stories about the help that young people receive from the SGS are robustly backed up by the very positive and independent evaluation by Professors Ravi Kohli and Heaven Crawley of the model of guardianship that the service has used. The evaluation finds that the Scottish model of guardianship is well established, as

“reflected in good communication and information sharing” between the service and referral agencies. The guardians are described as knowledgeable and competent. Most important, the guardians were found to be

“committed to young people in terms of safe and sustaining relationships”.

The evaluators found clear evidence that outcomes were improved for the unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people as a result of the service. They identified the added value of guardianship, which lies in its ability to work across the three domains of asylum, wellbeing and social networks. It is all too easy to forget the real sense of contentment and self-worth that we derive from the most basic aspects of our lives when things are going well: a place we are happy to call home; interaction with our families, friends and wider communities; consistent provision of appropriate healthcare; and access to education.

The guardians have made time and taken time to explain and to listen to the children who are referred to them. The guardians have not only helped those young people cope with the obstacles that they faced on their arrival and provided day-to-day support with other issues such as health, housing and education; they have actively encouraged the young people to improve their wellbeing by creating wider social networks, so that they can participate in Scottish life and meet others of their own age groups.

The guardians have helped the young people to begin to feel like any other young citizens of Scotland. That is particularly important, according to the evaluators, who noted that the work that the guardians undertake in one domain has an impact on the young people’s capacity to deal with issues in other areas of their lives. In other words, it builds on their assets and builds their resilience so that they can overcome other challenges. The evaluators found that a young person’s capacity to deal with issues in relation to his or her asylum claim is often contingent on their general sense of wellbeing and on feeling socially embedded and connected. On the topic of wellness, resilience and connectedness, I heartily recommend the work and the words of Dr Larry Brendtro, whom I had the pleasure of listening to yesterday at an event on residential childcare, as he explains the psychological importance of all those things.

The well-developed trust between the children and their guardians has resulted in more information being made available to UK Border Agency case owners, who are able to make better decisions earlier in children’s lives. A large increase has been observed in the number of young people who are granted refugee status or humanitarian protection at an early stage since the service came into being.

The evaluators highlighted the circumstances in Scotland that have helped the non-statutory guardianship service to flourish, which include the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensuring that the children’s rights that are set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are recognised and that children’s voices are heard, and the positive influence of our getting it right for every child programme. All of us in the Parliament can be proud of GIRFEC, which keeps the child at the centre of every decision that affects them. It involves everyone who works with children and it expects that they will co-operate in providing co-ordinated, holistic support for those children no matter who they are, where they live or what their circumstances require.

The Scottish guardianship service mirrors that approach, and the learning from the scheme has fed directly into wider policy that affects vulnerable Scottish children and young people—particularly young people who are looked after at home—with the development of the long-term mentoring scheme by Susan Elsley through her work as a member of the looked-after children strategic implementation group.

As Minister for Children and Young People, I am determined that all of Scotland’s children get the support that they need to become healthy, confident and responsible members of their communities—to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens. Every child and young person has that potential and deserves that opportunity and I want to ensure that we get it right for all of them, regardless of how Scotland came to be their home.

These young people just want to lead normal, stable, secure lives and to have access to the same opportunities as their peers. The Scottish guardianship service can help them to achieve that goal, and in many instances it has already done so. I know how much the young people value the support and friendship that they have received in the absence of their families and I am determined that that support will be available in the future so that others who may find their way to our shores receive the same welcome and the same standards of care and assistance and go on to the same success. That is why we have committed funding to continue this excellent service for a further three years.

Scotland has a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. That was the case even prior to the 1951 UN refugee convention. Migrants from various parts of Europe, Asia and Africa have been coming to Scotland for centuries, and we want to continue to be a welcoming country. We have a large, established migrant community and we welcome the contribution, colour and vibrancy that new Scots bring to our economy and society. I wish the Scottish Refugee Council all the best for next week’s refugee week, which seeks to ensure that there is a greater understanding and appreciation of the culture and diversity that immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees bring to Scotland, making a positive impact on our lives and our society.

With the guardians, I have witnessed enthusiasm and a desire to help. The lessons that we have learned from this unique Scottish service can be shared with the rest of the UK and the service has attracted interest from Europe. Sometimes, that is not the case. It is time that we became proud of the fact that Scotland has a lot to contribute to public policy, particularly in this area. We should share our learning as well as learning from others around the world.

It is often said that one of the measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable members. These children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They come here in distress, needing help and looking for an opportunity to rebuild their lives and contribute to their new home.

I am proud that Scotland has shown that we can accept and support young people from all over the world. In return, young people from all over the world have shown how willing they are to learn about and contribute to Scotland, enriching all our lives. I had the opportunity to meet such young people and I encourage members to do so, because they might be inspired by the stories that the young people tell.

In such a policy area, challenges will always lie ahead and there will always be far more that we can do. This debate is about recognising the efforts of the people who have made the project a success and getting the Parliament to give its backing to the important work that continues to put Scotland at the vanguard of this policy area.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that 17 to 23 June is Refugee Week 2013; welcomes the success of the Scottish Guardianship Service in supporting more than 100 unaccompanied young people going through the asylum system; further welcomes the positive evaluation of this unique Scottish service and the help that it has delivered to vulnerable young people, and commends the Aberlour Childcare Trust and Scottish Refugee Council for operating the service.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

The Labour Party welcomes this debate and the opportunity not only to pay tribute to the work of the Scottish guardianship service in supporting children and young people who arrive in Scotland unaccompanied and separated from their families, but to recognise the difficulties and challenges that asylum-seeking children and young people face.

Children are children, regardless of where they come from, and we have a duty to support young people and do all that we can do to ensure that they are safe, secure and able to access the services that they need.

Forced migration is a sad fact of life for many of the world’s children and young people. According to the Scottish Refugee Council, in 2012 around 1,200 children sought asylum in the UK, and up to five separated children arrive in Scotland each month to claim asylum. Many of the young people show indications of having been trafficked. The minister was right to say that most of those children and young people have little knowledge of Scotland and its language, culture or policies.

I cannot begin to imagine what that is like, and I do not think that any member can do so. However, I am sure that we all understand that it would be hugely daunting to be faced with the bureaucratic processes of a new country, in a world that we did not know, while bearing the physical and mental scars that many asylum seekers have—let alone facing all that without the protection and support of an adult family member.

The Scottish guardianship service works with vulnerable children and young people who arrive in Scotland unaccompanied and separated from their families. Those children and young people need the service’s crucial support if they are to navigate the complexities of the asylum process and access the support services that they need, when they need them.

As the minister said, guardians work primarily in three areas: they assist separated young people in their claims for protection as refugees; they act as a bridge to social work, accommodation, education and health services; and they support young people in their everyday lives. It was good to hear from the minister some personal testimonies of the service. I put on record my appreciation of the Scottish guardianship service’s work, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement of further funding for the project over the next three years.

The Scottish guardianship service does excellent work in supporting young people through the complexities of the asylum process, but we must also do everything that we can to reduce the barriers that such young people face in accessing the support that they need.

I thank Aberlour Child Care Trust, the Scottish Refugee Council and other partners for their work on the service and for their informative briefings ahead of today’s debate. It is important that we use this debate to congratulate the people who run an important service. We should also use it to consider how we might offer more and better support to asylum-seeking children and young people and to recognise some of the wider concerns in relation to young asylum seekers and victims of trafficking.

On how we better support asylum-seeking children and young people, organisations such as Barnardo’s Scotland, which provided a helpful briefing for the debate, have expressed concern that some local authorities tend to assume that asylum seekers are a low-needs group, which requires low levels of service support. The experiences of asylum seekers suggest that the opposite is often the case. Many asylum seekers have high levels of trauma, and people often have mental health issues as a result of their experiences. Young people who seek refuge have often fled persecution, physical and mental abuse and even life-threatening situations in their own countries.

The first annual evaluation report of the service outlined that in year 1 of the project, nearly 70 per cent of the people involved were between 16 and 17 years of age. It also highlighted that a large number of young asylum seekers in Scotland are age disputed. That is often due to a lack of documentation or because of language barriers, which make it difficult for young people to communicate with the authorities.

Barnardo’s Scotland has expressed concerns that many asylum seekers are not receiving appropriate age assessments from the UK Border Agency. Many young people are being identified as adults and are subsequently treated as such, which is of course a cause for concern. It is vital that everything possible is done to ensure that young people are identified correctly and do not miss out on vital support because they are wrongly classed as adults by the UK Border Agency.

On ensuring support, I would welcome information from the Scottish Government on whether it has considered whether asylum-seeking children and young people should be entitled to the same support that the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill seeks to give looked-after children—namely support from corporate parents until the age of 25. I would also welcome it if the Scottish Government could tell us what liaison it has had with the Home Office regarding the questioning of young asylum seekers and the criteria that are used for determining the age of adulthood, and whether it is calling on the UK Government to raise the qualification age to 21 or 25.

Support for children in terms of immigration and welfare when they arrive in Scotland is very important, but young asylum seekers also face a number of education issues. Many young asylum seekers are keen to access education and learning opportunities, but often they do not have access to the support that they need in order to learn. A lack of language skills is often the main reason for that, but the reality is that many local authorities across the country have been forced to cut language support services, which provide vital support to young asylum seekers. That affects their ability to learn and, ultimately, their ability to gain meaningful employment.

Although many young people will have positive experiences while they are here, it is very concerning to hear about instances of interfaith and racial bullying in Scottish schools. I would welcome it if the minister could provide—or give a commitment to obtain—up-to-date information on the instances of interfaith and racial bullying in Scottish schools and details on what action the Scottish Government plans to tackle the issue.

Barnardo’s Scotland and others have expressed a desire to see more intensive support for young asylum seekers who are keen to access education in order to improve their long-term outcomes. I hope that the minister will take that on board this afternoon.

As I mentioned at the start, around a third of young people receiving the service show signs of having been trafficked. The evaluation of the Scottish guardianship service pilot states that around a third of young people receiving the service had

“trafficking indicators associated with domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and cannabis cultivation.”

That is an extremely worrying statistic. It is all the more worrying when we consider that there are likely to be many more trafficked children and young people whom the authorities are not aware of. As well as facing the difficulties and challenges that all young asylum seekers face, victims of trafficking face additional problems and have additional needs. Victims of trafficking have often experienced considerable trauma and need specialist support.

Many trafficking victims do not see themselves as victims of exploitation and accept the view of their traffickers that they owe them a debt. Others live in fear of their traffickers, who have forced them into the sex industry, drugs industry or to work as cheap labour. The problems that trafficking victims face are serious and wide ranging and require tailored, specialist support.

It is therefore alarming that Barnardo’s Scotland has raised concerns that trafficked children across Scotland are not receiving the specialist support services that they need in order to recover and integrate into their local community. I urge the Scottish Government to listen to those concerns and to do all that it can to ensure that those children—as the minister said, they are some of the most vulnerable in Scotland—receive the specialised support that they need.

It would be good to hear from the minister what priority the police and the Government are giving to tracking down and prosecuting traffickers. In particular, how are they supporting young asylum seekers to give evidence against those who have exploited them? Where young people are targeted for exploitation in their communities, what support do the police and local authorities give to those young people and communities?

We should welcome the important and worthwhile work of the Scottish guardianship service. However, we must recognise that we can and should do more for children and young people who arrive here in Scotland without their parents.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There is time in hand at the moment. If members wish to take interventions, they can be compensated for that.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the Scottish guardianship service and the tremendous work that it does in helping to look after and support vulnerable young asylum seekers, particularly given that, as the minister indicated, next week is refugee week 2013.

The issue of asylum is emotive and complex and requires calm and serious consideration. In wider public and political discourse, it is often confused with immigration more generally. It is important to distinguish between economic migrants—those who freely choose to come to the UK—and vulnerable and persecuted people who, as we have heard in the debate, might be victims of human trafficking and in need of asylum.

The UK is a signatory of the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees and therefore has an obligation to those genuinely seeking asylum, perhaps as a result of persecution in their home countries due to race, religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or other matters. We should be proud of our record in providing a safe haven for those who are desperately in need of freedom, safety and security.

Seeking asylum is undoubtedly a traumatic process for all those who are forced to endure it. Many will have come from countries experiencing conflict, ethnic or religious tension, or political repression. They will sometimes have had to go through hell on earth just to get here and will often arrive with nothing but their name and the clothes on their back. For some it will be a more painstaking ordeal than for others. This debate is right to focus on those issues and the challenges facing the thousands of children who go through the asylum process every year, often without the support of their family or friends.

It is a sad fact of life that forced migration affects millions of children globally. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly half of the 34.5 million people around the world who are classed as “people of concern”, and more than a third of all asylum seekers, are under the age of 18. In the UK, about 2,000 unaccompanied children apply for asylum each year, presenting unique difficulties and challenges, which often fail to be taken into consideration.

Children are frequently unaware of their rights and have no real knowledge of the culture or language of their host nation. The UK Border Agency treats all asylum applications—from adults or children—in largely the same way. It is entirely right that UKBA ensures that all asylum applications are treated consistently and are scrutinised effectively. It has my support for the difficult work that it does. However, we should recognise that the process will inevitably be more difficult and demanding for younger people, particularly when they have very little family support.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I agree very much with the theme of the member’s comments. When we are dealing with health, for example, we deal with young people in a different way and give them extra support and so on. Would the member say that the UK Border Agency has a responsibility to deal with young people more sensitively?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The member makes an important point. It is important to distinguish the legal framework under which the UK Border Agency has to operate and the way in which it approaches individual cases. It seems to me that it is right to apply a legal framework that treats everybody the same, regardless of their age. However, when it comes to the sensitivity of dealing with individuals, there needs to be additional support or children, which is why this debate is so important. The guardianship service that we are talking about is crucial to ensuring that children are being properly listened to in that environment.

Children can be subjected to interviews and they have to prepare a testimonial on why they left their country of origin. That can be particularly difficult for the number of children who have been forced to leave their home countries against their will. As Neil Bibby said, it is estimated that almost a third of children who apply for asylum may have been trafficked. Human trafficking is a heinous and sickening practice and we must do all that we can to eradicate it. We also need to recognise that it is a very important factor in contributing to the numbers that are being presented in the debate.

For all children, regardless of how they arrive here, the asylum process can be traumatic, uncertain, and at times bewildering. Many will not have access to the guidance that they need. That is why the work of the Scottish guardianship service is so important. It is a very good example of the third sector filling in to provide essential services in the absence of direct Government support.

The service, as we have heard, provides a guardian to children to act as a point of contact throughout the entire asylum process. That is invaluable and it goes some way to filling the void that is left by the absence of close family. It also helps to ensure that young people are aware of their rights and are given advice on how they can integrate into the local community. The latter point is particularly important, given that the children come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and cultures and many of them have little or no proficiency in English.

Our asylum system is not perfect and much more can be done to improve it, but I am encouraged by some of the steps that the UK Government is taking, such as the asylum improvement project, which seeks to speed up the processing of applications and improve the quality of decisions. That project has had significant results and the evidence shows that asylum cases are being handled more and more quickly.

Despite that, charitable organisations and the third sector have—and always have had—a crucial role to play when it comes to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and they are worthy of our praise and our support. I was pleased to hear from the minister about the additional funding for the service and I hope that that means that the Scottish guardianship service is here to stay, to help those who are most in need who come to our country.

I commend Aileen Campbell for bringing the debate to the chamber. It gives us all an opportunity to pay tribute to that excellent service and I am pleased to support the Government motion.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I am very glad to take part in the debate. I will touch on three areas. First, we can obviously celebrate the guardianship service, which has been established for a couple of years. Secondly, we can acknowledge refugee week. Thirdly, however, we must regret how many refugees there are in the world.

First, we can celebrate the guardianship service. I have to admit that I was not very familiar with the whole concept of guardianship, but the more I have learned about it, the more positive I have become. When I think of myself aged 15 or 16, I am not at all sure how I would have coped if I had been dumped on my own in a strange and perhaps seemingly hostile country.

In education, in health and in other spheres, we rightly do not treat young people exactly the same as we treat adults. The same should apply in immigration—young people should be treated more carefully. I am not a fan of the UK Borders Agency; it seems to be an organisation that is designed to keep people out of England, which is seen as an overpopulated country. However, that is clearly not the case in Scotland—we very much need to grow our population, so our starting point is probably different, in that we can be more relaxed about welcoming people here.

On reading the evaluation of the guardianship pilot, it is encouraging to see that progress has obviously been made during the two years in which it has been operating. It states that in year 1 there were often tensions and disagreements regarding the roles and responsibilities of guardians, in particular in relation to other service providers—especially statutory service providers, including social workers. However, in the second year, it seems to have been broadly agreed that interventions by guardians are very helpful.

I especially like the description of the guardianship role as

“filling gaps in resources and services in a timely way” and the comments that the guardian

“had time to get to know the young person” and

“provided them with a level of acceptance and support”.

That raises an interesting point about some of our public services. There is sometimes a danger that advice and support are seen as needing to be wholly cold, objective, and impersonal. In fact, sometimes there can be a positive fear of a relationship developing between the person helping and the person being helped. That happens not only in the public sector; it happens in the voluntary sector, too. It sometimes seems that it is felt that it does not matter who gives advice, but that approach leaves out the importance of trust, confidence and similar issues.

By contrast, I was encouraged to read the 10 core standards of guardianship practice, especially standards 7, 8, and 9. Standard 7 says:

The Guardian treats the child with respect and dignity” and

“shows a flexible approach tailored to the individual needs of the child”.

Standard 8 says:

“The Guardian forms a relationship with the child built on mutual trust, openness and confidentiality.”

Again, that emphasises the relationship.

Standard 9 says:

“The Guardian is accessible” and

“can be reached easily, lives near enough .. the child to be able to respond quickly … and contacts the child … when there is no specific need to do so.” l see all that as being extremely positive. Perhaps we could learn from that model in relation to other areas of child care.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I am sure that John Mason will appreciate that the lessons that can be learned from the project have been fully recognised. The project that I mentioned on mentoring looked-after children recognises the strong policy levers that are evident in the report to which he referred.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for making that point. Some of the most successful outcomes that we have seen with regard to children in care have involved there being, in a young person’s life, one adult who performs above and beyond the call of duty, even after the young person has left care.

On refugee week, it has to be said that we now have many designated days and weeks when we remember events and highlight issues. That is a good thing, although I suppose that there is a danger that the number of such events can dilute their impact. I am more than happy to welcome refugee week Scotland, because the sad fact is that, although the focus of today's debate is on young refugees in Scotland, we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg here; there is a huge problem worldwide.

Murdo Fraser mentioned some of the figures. The UNHCR figures show that there are around 10 million refugees worldwide. However, when we add other groups, including internally displaced persons, of whom there are some 15 million, we get to the figure that is given in the briefing from the Scottish Refugee Council and the Aberlour Child Care Trust, which suggests that there are 34.5 million “people of concern”, of whom nearly half are young people under the age of 18.

As I said, we must regret that there are so many refugees. The definition of “refugee” in Wikipedia is:

“a person who is outside his or her country of origin or habitual residence because they have suffered (or fear) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted 'social group' or because they are fleeing a war or natural disaster.”

There have always been people who flee a regime or another group of people, and I suspect that there always will be. Often, we cannot have much influence over the causes of the fleeing, so first and foremost it is right that we protect the victims and give them whatever help we can and that they need.

However, that is not to say we should not be doing more to prevent people from becoming for refugees and asylum seekers in the first place. Sometimes we, or our countries, have been partly responsible, for example, by supplying arms to despotic regimes for use against their own citizens, or for going to war against neighbouring countries. We might also have been guilty of not speaking out enough—or at all—about unacceptable situations around the world. That can be tricky, because we western powers have an unpleasant record of colonialism and of telling Asian and African countries how they should run themselves. We do not want to repeat those mistakes.

Ideally, we should have not have been in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we cannot undo that now, and we should be speaking out for minorities there, and in countries such as Egypt and Syria, where people are being pressured to leave and, potentially, to become refugees.

We can be positive about the guardianship service and we can recognise refugee week, but we must also regret that there are so many refugees around the world.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I am very pleased to be taking part in this debate, although the subject of separated young people seeking asylum is particularly emotive, and the accounts that many provide of their ordeal are both upsetting and disturbing. They are vulnerable young people who come to our country without the adult support that they require, and who often come here through necessity and sometimes by force. They desperately need structured help, and for that reason I am happy to be able to congratulate the guardianship pilot on its successes and achievements.

The process of moving to a new country and adapting to a different culture is intimidating at the best of times, even for adults. Can members imagine how daunting it must be to people under 18 who may recently have been through the most traumatic experiences of their lives? The value of a friendly face who understands the situation and is readily available for advice and emotional support cannot be overstated. In the first independent evaluation of the service, which was published in December 2011, 36 per cent of the young people interviewed were noted as having mental health difficulties ranging from anxiety, through psychosomatic symptoms to post-traumatic stress. When there is such a diverse range of physical and mental health issues to be addressed, it is essential that guardians are present to help the young person make sense of the situation and deal with both immigration and welfare processes.

Neil Berry mentioned evidence that we have received that about a third of the young people in question have been trafficked. In its submission for the Public Petitions Committee’s investigation into child sexual exploitation in Scotland, the Scottish guardianship service highlighted that young migrants are also exceptionally vulnerable to child sexual exploitation when they are here. Such youngsters face a wider range of barriers to accessing advocacy and support than would otherwise be the case. For any victim, articulating the harrowing experience of trafficking or of past trauma is at best a difficult and emotional experience, but when English is not their first language, it is an even greater problem.

If left unaided, the young person may also be open to exploitation through isolation and loneliness. As the guardianship service emphasises, the young person may feel drawn to adults who are from a similar cultural background, even when the subsequent relationship becomes exploitative. People can perhaps relate to that if they put themselves in the position of those individuals, who often have no experience of the world outside their home countries. The majority who meet guardianship services are only 15 to 17 years old and come from 7 countries, including Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Iran. We know that up to five separated young people arrive on Scottish shores each month and claim asylum. Tragically, as others have mentioned, a significant proportion of those youngsters have experience of being trafficked.

It is vital that the best interests of those children are put at the forefront of future policy decisions, which can happen only if services are developed with and for the young people themselves. The difficult decisions in the process of asylum, as well as welfare issues in respect of housing, education and health, can be shared with the guardian, who will help to shoulder some of the burden. As a result, young people can focus on what life should really be about, and can find their own sense of place and a social circle, as well as building up their skills.

Of course, it is not just the guardians who matter. Neil Bibby mentioned the evidence from Barnardo’s, which emphasises that many trafficked children in Scotland are not receiving the specialised support services that they need in order to recover and integrate into the local community. Obviously, a range of services need to respond to those service gaps.

Neil Bibby also asked questions about the police and trafficking, which is clearly a central issue both in terms of identifying young people who have been trafficked and in terms of tracking down and charging the people who are guilty of trafficking. I believe that in that, training for the police is crucial. I understand that a report has come out today that highlights the importance of training for not just the police but other professionals, which will, I believe, be the subject of debate at the parliamentary cross-party group on human trafficking meeting at 5.30 today.

The first annual independent evaluation of the guardianship service highlighted that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically recommends that separated children be provided with a guardian as standard, and called for the UK Government to introduce a statutory guardianship scheme for all young people who go through the asylum process alone. The pilot service in Scotland is the first of its kind in the UK; I hope that it will be replicated across the whole UK in the very near future. The evaluation was essential because it provided an opportunity to review the experiences of the young people and to come up with suggestions about how the process may be taken forward even more successfully in the future.

It is welcome news that the Scottish Government will continue to fund the service for a further three years. I hope that, over that period, it will go from strength to strength.

The service evaluation highlights the case of Ali, who became separated from his family in the immigration process. On attempting to enter the UK in Glasgow, he was refused asylum and told that he had no grounds to appeal. At just 15 years old, he was offered the help of the guardianship service, which then sought a second legal opinion. That led to his appeal being accepted, and Ali now has the chance to rebuild his life with the support network that has been built up through interaction with his guardian. Without that help, he would perhaps have been forced to return to the situation from which he had fled.

That graphic example sums up the success of the Scottish guardianship service. I congratulate it on its achievements so far and wish it all the best for the future.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Members will be well aware that I play an active part, with other members, in seeking to improve the lives of young people who have undergone the trauma of trafficking or who have been seeking asylum, and in some cases both.

Immigration is a reserved power, so we in Scotland have no real control. The UK Border Agency sees it as being fit and proper that it treats children who are as young as 10 or 11 the same as it handles adults who arrive at its borders. That means lengthy interviews, probably through an interpreter, and—as we have heard—the preparation of a testimonial that they probably do not understand but that is meant to explain why they are seeking asylum. I imagine that those young people have a feeling of complete and utter disorientation.

That will not do. The UKBA has got it badly wrong in the past. I cite Dungavel and dawn raids as clear testimony to, and perfect examples of, where the UKBA has got it badly wrong. Westminster needs to re-examine the system and to find a better, fairer and more compassionate approach. The young people are scared and confused about why they are there. They lack the comfort of having a family member beside them, they have few belongings and they do not know what is going to happen next. They must be absolutely terrified. In my opinion, that is beyond Dickensian.

It is incontrovertible that we are talking about extremely vulnerable and frightened young people who have been displaced. We need to give them more than an introduction to our fingerprinting service—they are children. They have rights that are enshrined in European and UK law, and we have a duty to uphold and implement those rights. That is why I was pleased to hear that Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested that the Scottish guardianship service be used as a model for England and Wales. The committee’s interesting report on the issue states on page 49:

“We welcome the findings from the Scottish Guardianship Service, which demonstrate the value that a guardian can add for unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children. We recommend that the Government commission pilots in England and Wales that builds upon and adapts the model of guardianship trialled in Scotland. The guardian should provide support in relation to the asylum and immigration process, support services and future planning, help children develop wider social networks, and ensure that children’s views are heard”.

I could not have said it better myself. I hope that the Westminster Government will take heed of that recommendation.

Without independence, we are helpless to change the official UK Border Agency system with its apparent lack of interest in compassion or understanding. The squeeze on time to produce the crucial testimonial barely gives the child time to build any kind of meaningful or trusting relationship with a solicitor, who probably does not even speak their language.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Does Christina McKelvie accept that setting up a radically different process for immigration and asylum north of the border, compared to the process south of the border, would inevitably require a more onerous system of border controls, not just for those people, but for anybody travelling back and forth across the border?

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

That is a good point, although Liam McArthur will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with it. Like the Westminster Joint Committee on Human Rights, I believe that Scotland could be the beacon. We could make the difference and, I hope, change the system in the rest of the UK. That is what I strive for. My agenda is positive and is not just about criticising—although, as he will understand, I criticise the UKBA quite a lot.

To assume that a child could instantly recover from cataclysmic circumstances that have brought him or her to the UK, and be ready to explain it all cogently and clearly in a couple of weeks, seems to be not just unrealistic but inhumane. I have taken part in interviews with adults who have had to explain their circumstances in extremely difficult terms. That a child should have to do that is unbelievable. What people go through when they relive and retell their stories is indescribable.

UKBA is not interested in helping Scotland to be a little more caring and sensitive. The Scottish guardianship service, which is provided so effectively through Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council, is clearly not going to be encouraged by the Border Agency. UKBA refuses even to record interviews with children that are carried out at the guardianship centre, and will accept only those that take place at UKBA, even though that means additional trauma for the interviewee. Recording transcripts are often crucial, later in the decision-making process, for the child’s future. The system is patently unfair and militates against any form of natural justice.

The Scottish Government supports a Scotland-based programme that takes the guardianship service forward, which is something that I hope the rest of the UK will consider. It will allow the service to develop its mission to help vulnerable displaced young people, to enable them to have a more positive experience of arriving in a new and alien country than they get in England, for example, and to help them make sense of procedures that are daunting and confusing.

All the evidence points to just how helpful the model is. The guardians are able to deal with the enormous complexity of their work because they have the qualifications and skills to do so. They are thoroughly trained, supervised and supported and are committed to the young people whom they work with and for.

I commend the guardianship service not only for what it does so well, but for actively pursuing improvements, even though we are at present so restricted in our powers. I hope that the Scottish Government will be able to offer more support for those disadvantaged and often traumatised young people. Human trafficking is not just a developing-country problem; it is a problem for all of Europe. Sometimes it is an in-country problem, as well.

The Scottish Government has already pledged to develop the guardian pilot so that young people entering Scotland in that way will have someone whom they can trust and rely on to help their case—not a civil servant, but an advocate who understands and who cares about that child’s future.

UKBA does not have the professional skills to offer judgement on child cases. Such assessment needs to be made through child protection panels or similarly professional forums at local social work level. Those people are best placed to respond sensitively and with care. I recommended that action to the Equal Opportunities Committee’s predecessor committee during an inquiry in the previous parliamentary session.

Furthermore, as I have told Theresa May, the impending breakup of UKBA looks set to make matters worse rather than better. Far from operating in a more dignified manner, treating all people fairly and humanely, UKBA’s UK-wide organisation will be even more unable to determine the trafficking status of children and young adults.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

That is something that needs to be managed from within the local community. I invite everyone to join me when I host refugee week next week—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I would be grateful if you would close.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

In preparing for the debate, I read the briefings that were provided by a number of organisations, in particular the Aberlour Child Care Trust. The information in the trust’s briefing is truly humbling. As has been said, on average, five children arrive in Scotland every month, seeking asylum without their parents, through separation or another tragedy. Very few can speak English, and more than half have so little information or documentation that they are classified as “age disputed”. That is a potent reminder that there are societies around the world in which people exist in incomprehensibly desperate circumstances. It is a sad indictment of humanity that societies still exist in which life is so desperate that children have to make a dangerous journey across the world to seek asylum.

The guardianship service, as others have mentioned, is a programme that pairs those vulnerable children up with an adult who can act as a guide and confidant throughout the asylum process. As Malcolm Chisholm said, they provide advice and emotional support. The second of those things is really important because we need to be wary of the cold approach. As well as guidance, probably the best thing that we can offer those children is a shoulder to cry on—a human, caring face for the whole process—because they will be traumatised and need someone whom they believe cares about what will happen to them.

As has been pointed out, the project began as a three-year pilot in 2010 operated by the Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust and, in February, the Scottish Government announced that it would fund the project for another three years. Although that is very welcome, it is unsurprising. In its relatively short period of operation, the Scottish guardianship service has attracted praise from the Joint Committee on Human Rights at Westminster, which has recommended that the UK Government introduce a similar pilot for England and Wales.

Children who have received a guardian through the service have a significantly higher success rate in their asylum applications, with 44.2 per cent being granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, compared with only 20 per cent in the parts of the UK where no such service operates. Clearly, the Scottish guardianship service has already had a positive impact on those who have arrived in Scotland, and is serving as an example of good practice across the country. It is right that we, as a relatively rich developed country, do all that we can to help those who do not enjoy our luck in living in a wealthy and democratic nation. It is our responsibility to do all that we can to help those who arrive on our shores in desperate need of assistance, so I am pleased that the guardianship service is helping those most vulnerable of asylum seekers to navigate the process when they arrive.

However, although I sincerely welcome the service, it is—as John Mason suggested—a way of addressing the symptoms rather than the underlying problem. Of the children who arrived between September 2010 and August 2012, almost three quarters came from just seven countries: Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nigeria, Iran, Somalia, Gambia and Eritrea. To truly improve the quality of life of people around the world, we need to be internationalists and to champion causes that address the vast inequalities that still exist.

As part of their campaign for global tax justice, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty have highlighted that each year the amount of corporation tax that is avoided by international corporations in developing countries is three times the global aid budget. The UK is about to host the G8 summit and David Cameron and George Osborne have both stated that reforming international tax practice will be high on the agenda. Although that would be a welcome step, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer should perhaps look closer to home and prevent tax avoidance in the UK. Words are all very well but, as we know, actions speak far louder, and only through taking action on tax havens and tax avoidance can we truly improve the situation of many people living all over the world. After all, the United Nations projects that, by 2015, around 1 billion people will be living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day: we must do all we can to drastically reduce that figure.

While these conditions exist around the world, services like the Scottish guardianship service will continue to play a vital role in helping vulnerable children to escape desperate circumstances and to settle into better lives. However, there are a number of steps that we can take to build on the solid foundations that have been created through the service. As Murdo Fraser pointed out, we in the UK do not distinguish between children and adults in respect of completion of assessments, unless the children show signs of torture or trauma. Moreover, although the UKBA will allow interviews of children to take place offsite, it will not allow those offsite interviews to be recorded. I have no idea why that should be the case.

Aberlour has suggested that the UKBA might not have the required expertise to deal with vulnerable children in such cases, and that a two-stage process involving child protection committees having responsibility for formal identification of trafficking, while the Home Office and UK human trafficking centre retain responsibility for making the immigration decision. I think that that sensible suggestion is worth looking at.

I am very pleased that the Scottish guardianship service has had such a positive impact and that it will continue to operate for the next three years. However, although I believe that we should all welcome that move, we must not lose sight of the fact that the need for the service highlights the unacceptable inequality that exists around the world. That should spur us on to take decisive action to reduce global poverty and to lift hundreds of millions of people out of desperate situations.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

The issue of refugees and asylum seekers in our country can cause significant concerns, which has always surprised me. As a nation, we are proud of our country, we celebrate our culture and we enjoy a quality of life that is second to none. How fortunate we are that we do not have to flee our country and seek refuge in another country because of war, oppression or persecution. Which one of us would choose to send a child of ours to strangers in a distant land in the hope that the child would be well received, loved and supported?

In that light, as well as recognising the significant contribution that refugees make to Scotland, it is important to acknowledge that allowing people to come to Scotland to escape torture and tyranny is the duty of a compassionate and responsible nation. I believe that Scotland is such a nation.

In addition to the moral obligation that we have to refugees, it is vital that refugees, particularly children, are well looked after for however long they choose to stay here. As almost half all refugees are under 18, it is clear that the Scottish guardianship service is a vital and worthwhile initiative. I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that £200,000 will be allocated to the service over the next three years. I hope that the scheme will provide care and support to vulnerable children.

It must be an absolutely terrifying experience for a child to arrive alone in a new country. Often, such children have no knowledge of Scotland, our systems and support services or our language. We must bear in mind the fact that the authorities in their homelands—including the police—are not always seen in a positive light. The difficulty that such children experience might be magnified by the fact that many of them are fleeing war zones, persecution or physical and mental abuse. Another concern is that a significant number of young refugees might have been trafficked, with many living in fear of traffickers who would force them into the sex industry or drugs industry to provide cheap labour. We must ensure that all young people are sufficiently looked after for however long they are here.

Police Scotland has an important role to play. Continued work on identifying, targeting and prosecuting traffickers is vital in reducing the number of trafficked people in Scotland. The number of prosecutions for trafficking in Scotland is very low, and more needs to be done to ensure that victims understand the nature of exploitation, so that they can act as witnesses. We need to reassure victims that they will be safe and protect them from any potential repercussions that they might fear suffering from traffickers.

Since its establishment, the Scottish guardianship service has been designed to ensure that young refugees are better supported during their experience of immigration and better informed about the welfare system. As well as developing a model of practice that is centred on the child’s interests, the service is designed to encourage co-operation and communication among the agencies so as to provide better information and support.

Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council, which are the two primary partners in the guardianship service, agree that vulnerable young people who enter the UK as refugees need support and assistance in navigating the often complex processes and systems that they face. A particular challenge comes from the added barriers of language and cultural differences. The children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland further supports that view and has added its backing to the guardianship service. Providing young asylum seekers and refugees with support and enabling them to access the assistance that they need are paramount if we are to represent ourselves as a responsible and compassionate society.

The appointment of an individual to act as a young person’s guardian means that the young person has a single point of contact throughout the asylum and immigration process, which offers a vulnerable child continuity, stability and the establishment of trust in a most challenging circumstance. Having the guardian explain to the child in understandable terms the process that they are going through makes the experience less daunting and overwhelming for them.

I will highlight two issues in the system. The first is the fact that separated children who are seeking asylum are processed in the same way as adults. The second is that, unlike England and Wales, Scotland does not afford young asylum seekers the official status of children in need. If we can address those issues, combined with the Scottish guardianship service, Scotland will have a programme for dealing with young refugees of which we can be proud.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Under section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, which covers voluntary accommodations, the children about whom we are talking are covered by the regulations on looked-after children, which underpin the approach that we take. In many respects, that is considered to be stronger than the approach that Graeme Pearson proposes in relation to children in need.

Photo of Graeme Pearson Graeme Pearson Labour

From the briefings that have been provided, the official status of children in need seems to be a key issue for those who have deep experience of the processes. I invite the minister to revisit that and, if there is a gap, to deal with it.

I support the motion and hope that the Government will continue its efforts to ensure that Scotland provides a safe place for asylum seekers and refugees.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I, too, am pleased to have been called to speak in the debate on the Scottish guardianship service, which we can all agree is groundbreaking. It is apt that we are having the debate in advance of the celebration of refugee week Scotland 2013, which commences next Monday. My colleague Christina McKelvie, who has had to leave, is hosting an event to celebrate that excellent initiative next week in the Scottish Parliament.

As we have heard, the Scottish guardianship service was established as a pilot project in 2010, further to a commitment made by the Scottish National Party Scottish Government in its 2008 response to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It should be acknowledged that the service was set up further to a lot of work behind the scenes by Aberlour Child Care Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council, which operate it. All credit should go to both those excellent organisations for the hard work that they did to set up the service and for the excellent way in which they have operated it since its inception.

As has been said, the service is non-statutory and operates independently. Its key focus is to provide support for children seeking asylum who find themselves separated from those who would otherwise have parental responsibility for them. Sadly, that includes many trafficked minors. The key recognition that underpins the service is that, aside from being extremely vulnerable and isolated, those children would, in the absence of the service’s support, find themselves at a severe disadvantage in their representation in the asylum process and, therefore, their ability to invoke their rights under the law.

The support that is provided is designed to ensure that those gaps are filled. That is secured by the institution of guardians. It is important to note for the record the definition of a guardian for the purposes of the guardianship service, as it differs in certain respects from the terminology that is employed in Scots law in general. A guardian is defined as

“someone who accompanies children and young people when they claim asylum or are trafficked and are cared for by health, education and welfare services. A Guardian will help a child or young person to be actively involved in decisions that affect their life and to get the help they need, when they need it. A Guardian is on the child’s side, can explain what is happening to them, will listen to their views and experiences and speak up for them when needed. A Guardian will also help a child or young person to plan their future”.

That definition sums up clearly what we are talking about in the debate.

In addition to ensuring that such children have somewhere that they can call home and that they have social contact and—as the minister mentioned—access to healthcare and education, the service makes a big difference in facilitating better decision making by UK Home Office caseworkers. That is because it means that much more information is available to the Home Office at the right time. At the same time, all the professionals who are involved work together and share information during the asylum process.

I understand that, since its inception, the guardianship service has supported more than 100 young people from countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Vietnam, Iran and Somalia. Most—about three quarters—of those who have been supported are young males, and nearly a third of the young people have presented trafficking indicators that are associated with domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, cannabis production and the supply or sale of drugs.

As we have heard, after the initial pilot period ended, the service was evaluated by the learned Professors Kohli and Crawley earlier this year. It is significant to note that that independent evaluation found that some 80 per cent of stakeholders felt that the pilot had made young people’s lives better. That view was shared strongly by the young people. It is important to note that the evidence on asylum outcomes supports that conclusion. About 44 per cent of the young people who had a guardian and for whom an initial decision had been made secured refugee status or humanitarian protection. That compares with a rate of about 20 per cent in the UK more generally.

I am therefore very pleased—as I think that everyone in the chamber is—to note that the SNP Scottish Government has agreed to fund the service for the next three years. That will allow key support to some of the world’s most vulnerable children to continue to be provided. The continued funding will also allow the service to build on the experience that has been gained over the first three years and to develop best practice.

As for the suggestions that were made in the Barnardo’s briefing, as I did not receive that briefing—and nor, it seems, did some of my colleagues—I cannot comment on them in any detail.

It is a credit to everyone involved that the service is going from strength to strength. I reserve particular praise for the guardians, who are making such a difference to the lives of the young people concerned.

We have heard about the interesting paragraph in the report on the human rights of separated children that Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published yesterday, which suggested that the Scottish guardianship service could serve as a model for the commissioning of pilot projects elsewhere in the UK. That is very much to be welcomed. However, from the time that I spent at Westminster as the MP for Perth and my constant battles with the then Labour Blair-Brown Westminster Government over the disgrace that was the detention of children of asylum seekers in detention centres such as Dungavel, I am afraid that I am not particularly sanguine about the prospect of a speedy response from Westminster on the issue. We can but hope.

Fortunately, in Scotland, at least on the matters that the guardianship service covers, we can continue to forge ahead in meeting our international commitments, while recognising that Westminster retains—although not for much longer, I hope—sole jurisdiction over asylum policy and procedures.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

It might be a little presumptuous of us to claim that the debate is a highlight of—or rather, the perfect launch for—refugee week Scotland 2013. Amid an array of what I understand will be more than 100 arts and cultural events in different parts of the country that will celebrate the contribution that refugees make to the communities that have welcomed them in, it is perhaps inevitable that our deliberations might seem a little drab by comparison.

Nevertheless, we should not be disheartened or deterred. We have a contribution to make, not least in raising public awareness of and broadening people’s horizons on the contribution that refugees make. As many members have mentioned, we, too, can highlight the challenges that refugees face, particularly those at the younger end of the age spectrum. In that regard, I welcome the debate and I am happy to confirm the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ support for the minister’s motion. I thank Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council for their excellent briefings, the contribution that they and others make to the guardianship service and their wider support for refugees and asylum seekers.

We may wish that it were otherwise, but there is no getting away from the fact that forced migration is an unpleasant fact of life and, what is most distressing, that that is the case for many children and young people in different parts of the world. War and conflict are an all-too-frequent catalyst. One need only consider the appalling events unfolding in Syria to see the effect that they can have. That civil conflict has displaced more than any other, and no end is in sight.

People are forced to flee their homes and countries for many reasons, including famine, disease and persecution. Meanwhile, displacement because of human trafficking is on the increase. As Graeme Pearson articulated in an excellent speech, that growing threat entraps children and young people, as it does adults.

The UNHCR estimates that about half the 34.5 million people who are of concern worldwide are children. Aberlour and the SRC explain that few of those children who arrive in the west are separated from their parents and that a small proportion of them end up in the UK. Those who arrive in this country have a right to be treated with humanity, dignity and compassion. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are often exceptionally vulnerable, as Malcolm Chisholm, Christina McKelvie and others have explained, and they need more tailored and specialised support. I therefore very much welcome the Scottish guardianship service pilot and the funding that Scottish ministers have made available to prolong the initiative for three more years.

Before I turn to the scheme’s details, it is important to acknowledge the decision that the UK coalition Government took to end child detention. The experience of the children who were incarcerated at Dungavel shamed us all. The campaign to end that practice rightly commanded support across the political parties in the Parliament and wider society. I share the relief at the ending of such detention, but it is a chapter in our history that we can only reflect on with deep regret. It is also worth recognising the moves that have been made to end deportations of people who could be threatened in their home countries because of their sexuality.

Like other members, I believe that further changes to immigration and asylum policy are necessary. I am alarmed at how the debate is conducted and heavily politicised. Some of that is reflected in the conclusions of the Joint Committee on Human Rights from earlier this week, to which other members have referred. However, I am pleased that progressive steps have at least been taken in the two areas that I mentioned.

I urge caution to members, such as John Mason, Christina McKelvie and Annabelle Ewing, who are tempted to argue that we should break up the UK so that we can establish our own approach to immigration and asylum. The greater the disparity between the regimes north and south of the border, the more onerous the border controls would inevitably be and the more rigorously they would be enforced across the board and not just for those seeking asylum. I accept more readily Christina McKelvie’s suggestion that we should promote a more progressive approach.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I thank the minister—I am sorry; I did not mean to promote the member. I thank him for taking an intervention.

Although I accept Liam McArthur’s arguments when he talks about Scotland’s independence from the rest of the UK, he might not accept mine. Does he accept that MSPs should have the same rights as MPs to defend our constituents who are seeking asylum on our shores?

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I have heard Sandra White’s question before. As she suggests, MSPs have a right to represent their constituents. I have sympathy with her argument, because it is not always reasonable to expect constituents to make the distinction between reserved and devolved responsibilities.

The guardianship service represents a progressive approach. It reflects the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and practice elsewhere in Europe, although equivalent schemes appear to vary significantly.

As others have said, the Scottish scheme is aimed at enhancing the support and improving the outcomes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. There is also a focus on improving joint working between different agencies. Both aims are vital, and the evaluation of the pilot phase is encouraging, as other members have suggested.

So far, the scheme has helped about 100 young people from countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Somalia and Vietnam. The guardians have helped those vulnerable young people to navigate the often highly confusing and stressful complexities of the asylum and welfare processes and have improved their understanding of and engagement with those processes.

As important is the fact that communications and collaboration between all those involved appear to have improved. That has resulted in, among other things, Home Office case owners having better-quality information on which to base their decisions—Annabelle Ewing made that point.

The evaluation report into the pilot phase of the scheme suggests that guardianship has helped to lift the overall quality of the service, although it is acknowledged that increased success rates for asylum applications partly reflect the applicants’ nationalities. The service has also allowed the young people involved to build a capacity to deal with the events, many of which are very traumatic, that are taking place in their lives. There are positives to take from the scheme, although Aberlour and the SRC point to areas where further work and improvement are necessary—they include dealing with trafficked children and supporting those whose case for protection has been refused.

There are lessons for other parts of the UK. A similar scheme is being considered for Northern Ireland. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has recommended that the UK Government should consider establishing pilots in England and Wales. I agree with Malcolm Chisholm that that seems sensible, although it might not be straightforward, as Professor Kohli—one of the evaluators of the Scottish scheme—has acknowledged.

Scotland receives relatively few unaccompanied asylum-seeking children; the average is three per month, in comparison with 46 in London. With smaller case loads, guardians can spend the additional time that is necessary to engage with the young people and deliver the welfare and support outcomes that we are seeing. Replicating that elsewhere would present bigger challenges. In that sense, it might have been helpful if the Scottish pilot had looked at other ways of delivering the service—through greater use of the voluntary sector, for example.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please draw to a close.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I very much welcome the work that has been done through the guardianship service. I look forward to that work helping to inform and improve practice not just in Scotland but across the UK. I am happy to support the motion in the Government’s name.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I worked with asylum seekers and refugees for many years, back in the 1990s when they first arrived in Glasgow and in other areas of Scotland. I know only too well how difficult it is for asylum seekers—for the adults, never mind the children—to work their way through and understand the system. A different approach was needed then and is definitely needed now; we need to look at that.

In my work, I was involved with a group, supported by Glasgow City Council social work department, that worked with unaccompanied asylum seekers. The concern about age always raised its head when I visited the groups and the children. I see that we have young people in the public gallery today; they have been listening very intently. For them and also for others I want to give a small case study of one of those disputes about age.

The study concerns Abdul, who arrived in the UK in 2011 and was referred to the service in June. Abdul believes that he is 14 years old; indeed, he was told his date of birth by his mother. However, when he came here he was assessed as being 16 years old, which caused numerous problems. The dispute about Abdul’s age meant that he was unable to attend school; he was told to attend college. Obviously, Abdul wanted to be with children of his own age and he refused to go to college. As a consequence, he has become socially isolated and increasingly withdrawn and his mental health has deteriorated.

As I said, I give that example because we have children and young adults in the public gallery today. Some of those young adults may be voting next year. They have the freedom to do that; yet here in our country we have unaccompanied young adults, trafficked from whatever source, who do not have the opportunity to have a say—or would not have if we did not have the unique Scottish guardianship service.

The Scottish guardianship service is, indeed, a unique partnership between Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council. It is funded by the Scottish Government, and I welcome the minister’s announcement of an extra three years of funding. It is also supported by many charities, including Barnardo’s. Like other members, I thank everyone who is involved.

The project was set up and developed with young people and for young people. It is little wonder that the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has recommended that the UK Government should commission similar pilots in England and Wales with a view to establishing a wider system of guardianship. I hope that the minister will monitor whether that goes ahead and report back to us on whether the UK Government accepts that recommendation and looks at such a project, which would add to what we are doing in Scotland.

I thank Professor Crawley and Professor Ravi Kohli for their independent evaluation of the service. Annabelle Ewing mentioned some aspects of that. They found that the guardians advocate for all decisions by professionals to be taken in the best interests of the child, and that guardianship has worked within the principles of getting it right for every child. That is an important point, and it perhaps answers some of Neil Bibby’s questions about how we go forward with the service. Using the premise of getting it right for every child for unaccompanied children is a good start.

The evaluation also found that guardianship has lifted the overall quality of service provision by encouraging professionals such as legal representatives, social workers and residential staff to work together more closely, and it demonstrates the advantages for young people when they do that.

As I said, it is difficult for adults to cope with the asylum process, so we can only imagine what it is like for a child. Having guardians there to go through every single step with them gives them support and builds up not only their confidence but their capability to take on the things that are happening in their lives.

I am pleased that this fantastic service will operate for another three years. I would like it to be monitored, with more reporting back. However, we cannot have a debate on asylum and immigration without mentioning the UK Border Agency. I see that Liam McArthur has left the chamber, but I believe it is really important that we, as representatives of our constituents, have the same right as MPs at Westminster to contact the UK Border Agency and the Foreign Office. I have contacted the Red Cross, which is a fantastic organisation that can find the birth parents of unaccompanied asylum seekers back in the Congo or wherever it may be. It does not ask whether we are an MP or an MSP. If we have an interest, such as a constituent who is looking for their long-lost child, it will do that work for us.

I know that the minister will speak to the Minister for External Affairs and International Development, and I plead with the Government to speak to the UK Government once again. We can do what we can, but we desperately need the same powers that MPs have to find out, on behalf of constituents, exactly what is happening in the asylum system.

We have talked about unaccompanied children, but we also have young children who are with families who are seeking asylum in our country. I ask the minister whether there is anything that we can do to make their lives better. Can we extend the project to include the children of those families? Can we prevent them from having to go down to Brand Street in Glasgow to have their fingerprints taken just in case they are not the children they say they are? They are taken out of schools and away from doctors appointments.

I see that the Presiding Officer is asking me to wind up. I thank the minister and everyone else for their speeches.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

I am delighted that Scotland has met the UNHCR’s guidelines on international protection, which state that an independent qualified guardian should be appointed immediately, free of charge, for all separated children. As others have pointed out, Scotland is the only part of the UK to have a guardianship service. I am pleased that, after its successful 30-month pilot, the Scottish Government has committed to funding it for the next three years.

I am sorry that Liam McArthur has left the chamber because he seemed to suggest—I hope that I am not wrong here—that the reason for the higher than average granting of asylum in Scotland is to do with the cohort of countries that children and young people come from. The Aberlour Child Care Trust said in its briefing for this debate:

“The higher than average grant of asylum to separated children in Scotland cannot be attributed to the predominance of certain countries of origin in the cohort of young people who have received a Service.”

I hope that Liam McArthur simply misunderstood the briefing.

I am slightly concerned that there is no central listing of all the separated children and young people in Scotland or indeed in the UK. Such children are recorded only at local authority level. That must make the work of the Scottish guardianship service more complex, because it must apply to each local authority to find out about unaccompanied children in the authority’s care. I would appreciate hearing the minister’s view on putting in place a more organised data collection system, so that discrepancies between what is known centrally and what is known by agencies and local authorities can be overcome.

I read with interest the evaluations of the Scottish guardianship service that Professor Heaven Crawley and Professor Ravi Kohli produced in December 2011 and earlier this year. It is heartening to find that stakeholders’ views have developed and become more positive as time has gone on and the service’s work has become clearer and better understood. For example, in the 2012 survey of stakeholders, 74 per cent of respondents thought that the service

“helped the young person to participate as fully as possible in the asylum process”,

compared with only 48 per cent in 2011.

I am sorry to say that the UK Border Agency was not as positive in its view of the guardianship service. Professors Crawley and Kohli reported:

“Case Owners in UKBA were largely of the view that Guardians had not made any difference to the decision making process, at least as far as the final outcome was concerned”,

although case owners agreed that, because the guardians worked mainly with the legal representative, their input might be largely invisible to them.

We know that case owners were wrong, in that guardians can and do make a difference—sometimes all the difference—to the outcome of cases. In one case, a young girl called Patience was refused asylum because the UKBA believed that she was a member of an ethnic group that lives in urban areas and does not practise female genital mutilation. Patience said that she was a member of an ethnic group that lives in remote rural areas in her country of origin and practises FGM. It became clear to Patience’s guardian that she was unfamiliar with and fearful of the urban environment, including escalators, trains and traffic lights. When Patience appealed the UKBA decision, her guardian provided extensive evidence in that regard and a letter of support. Patience was eventually granted refugee status.

In another case, Husain, who was almost 18, was waiting for a decision on his asylum application. He was being supported by social services but he was due to be moved on to adult services and asylum support. His guardian lobbied for social work to continue to accommodate Husain until his asylum support application had been dealt with, to prevent him from having to be moved into Home Office accommodation. He was moved directly into national asylum support service accommodation as soon as the accommodation became available, which significantly reduced the number of moves he had to make.

Guardians do not just make a difference to the outcome of asylum appeals; they provide help and support at many levels. The dedicated guardian helps the child or young person to navigate the asylum system and rebuild their life here in Scotland. Guardians act as independent advocates for the child, assisting them with everything from dealing with lawyers to helping them to build social networks.

For example, a guardian helped a newly arrived young person, who could speak no English, to gain a place on a photography project so that he could focus on visual images. That might seem odd, but the boy met other young asylum seekers from his country on the course and began to have a wider circle of friends. He is now on a course for English for speakers of other languages and he hopes to move on to a photography course in the near future. The guardian’s inspired help provided that young person with a focus, an ambition, a means of expressing himself and a new group of friends. What a difference one course made to the life of a boy who came to a country in which he could not speak the language, with no friends and no family.

Ultimately, the most important measure of the service’s success is the views of the children whom the guardians support. The service was designed to deliver two outcomes, which members mentioned. The first is:

“To ensure that each child will have a significantly improved experience and understanding of the immigration and welfare processes, evidenced by the child’s informed participation and that they receive services and responses appropriate to their needs and entitlements”.

The second is:

“To develop a child-centred model of practice that promotes interagency working and provides better information upon which to base immigration decisions”.

If the children and young people did not believe that their guardians were an asset, the service would have failed.

The young people overwhelmingly had a positive view of their guardians. Indeed, the report by Professors Crawley and Kohli states that their reports were in many cases glowing. Here is one young person’s report:

“Big interview in Home Office. My Social Worker is not come. My Guardian go with me. It was hard questions. Big interview. She help me to find break time, and explain big questions to me.”

Frankly, given their level of English, that young person would have been in an impossible situation without the support that their guardian provided.

We must not forget how young these people are. During the period of the evaluation, 81 young people were allocated to a guardian. The majority of those referred to the service were between 15 and 17-years-old, although some were younger and, to be fair, some were assessed and found to be older than they had originally stated.

Often the young people had no idea of the whereabouts of their parents. Some had been abandoned and others’ parents had perhaps died. More than a third of the young people knew that their parents were living in other countries. Imagine what it is to be 15—my own daughter is 15—and to be on your own in a country where you know no one, do not speak the language and have to apply for asylum and talk to professionals such as lawyers. These young people have no home, no family, no friends and no money and some of them are not literate in any language. How frightening and difficult must their lives be? Their guardians are literally a lifeline, providing friendship, continuity and support.

I am delighted that the Scottish Government is doing the right thing by these young people, and I hope that the rest of the UK soon follows our example.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

The most striking aspect of this debate has been the personal stories of the young people involved. I was very taken with Stewart Maxwell’s contribution in which he highlighted a number of those stories.

What we have in essence is a situation in which children are arriving alone in this country. We know from the figures that roughly five per month are arriving in Scotland. As Stewart Maxwell said, they are mostly aged between 15 and 17. They arrive in a country where they might not speak the language, the culture is alien to them, and they have no home, perhaps very little education, no family or friends and literally no one to turn to. It must be the most confusing and in some cases terrifying situation to be in.

Thankfully, there is support for those children in the form of the guardianship service. Members on all sides of the chamber are right to celebrate the success story that is the Scottish guardianship service. I am glad that it has been possible to have this debate.

If we drill down into the causes behind these stories, we find that human trafficking is at the core of many. Apparently 32 per cent of the young people involved have trafficking indicators, which might be domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, cannabis production or the supply or sale of drugs.

Human trafficking is one of the great social ills of our age. The UK led the way in the abolition of the slave trade. It was the great crusade of William Wilberforce more than 200 years ago—I think that we remember the bicentenary celebrations that were held a few years ago. We are also leading the way in relation to human trafficking. The Foreign Secretary and the UK Government are doing great work on that internationally. As a result of the displacement of persons and issues around the world such as civil unrest, war and persecution, human trafficking is a growing problem. It requires proper international attention if we are to address it.

When my family and I lived in rural Perthshire a few years ago, a cannabis factory was discovered just down the road from us. It caused great concern and, I have to say, some excitement in the local community. We found cannabis being grown in a very discreet tenement flat—I should say that it was not me personally who found it, but the police.

The interesting human aspect was that a young Chinese man was effectively locked in the flat for weeks on end. He was not allowed out because he would have been very obvious in that community. He was kept under lock and key and was not allowed to see daylight, and it was his job to tend the cannabis plants. He of course turned out to be an illegal immigrant and had in effect been trafficked in to do that particular job.

Sometimes these issues can seem very distant to us, but that case brought home to me just how close to home some of the incidents can be. Everybody in the community in which we lived was absolutely astonished by what was happening under our noses and that nobody was aware of it.

Let us look at some of the causes. John Mason made a very thoughtful contribution about the international causes of human displacement. Last week, I had the privilege of meeting a representative from the Christian church in Pakistan, where the church faces persecution—perhaps not state-sponsored persecution but certainly persecution of some of its members. That is repeated throughout the world. Whether it is Christians in the middle east, gay people in sub-Saharan Africa or the Falun Gong in China, there are groups facing state persecution. It is not surprising that they try to seek asylum and protection elsewhere.

This country has an excellent record in international aid. The UK is the second largest provider of international aid in the world. Much of that comes out of the excellent work done by the Department for International Development, many of whose workers are based at East Kilbride.

I do not think that we should automatically tie the donation of international aid to demands for civil reforms, but we can ensure that we are buying influence. We should ensure that, when we give aid, it buys us at least a conversation with foreign Governments to say, “You need to try to clean up your act and make things better for the people in your countries.” We should make no apology for trying to spread the benefits of liberal democracy and promote human rights elsewhere in the world. If that makes me a neo-conservative, I will have to live with that label—although I am not entirely sure whether Mr Mason would be happy to share that description.

Dave Thompson raised the interesting issue of tax justice. I agree with a lot of what he said. It is a very easy soundbite to say, “Why doesn’t the Government just get companies to pay their taxes?” Of course, those things are all bound up in international trade agreements, the situation with the European Union and the general agreement on tariffs and trade. However, at the top of the agenda for the UK Government in relation to the G8 meeting is the issue of how we ensure that companies pay their taxes, because we all lose out when that does not happen.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

I am glad that Murdo Fraser has given us an absolute assurance that the issue is top of the agenda. I am sure that that is what will come out of the G8 meeting, too.

I do not know whether the member visited the tax justice bus that appeared outside the Parliament some months ago. There is plenty that can be done to move the issue on without getting international agreement. I am pleased that the member accepts that tax justice could be one way of ensuring that fewer people around the world have to leave their countries.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Mr Thompson makes some fair points. It might be unkind of me to point out that the party of which he is a member seems to be engaged in a race to the bottom on competitive corporation tax rates within the United Kingdom. Perhaps he is not best placed to take the moral high ground on the issue.

There was a broader debate about immigration. Some SNP members could not resist making a constitutional point. I entirely understand that, but the response from Liam McArthur was spot on. The reality is that—even if we were independent—if Scotland pursued a radically different policy on immigration or asylum from the rest of the United Kingdom, the result would simply be that a more solid border was required between Berwick and Carlisle. I am not sure that that is necessarily in our interests.

I close on a note of consensus. We should all celebrate the good work done by the Scottish guardianship service and welcome the additional support promised. In particular, I acknowledge the input from charities and the vital work done by those involved at the coalface.

Photo of Neil Bibby Neil Bibby Labour

It has been a good, constructive debate, with many excellent contributions from across the chamber. The debate has been a welcome opportunity not only to recognise the important role played by the Scottish guardianship service but to identify some of the issues affecting asylum-seeking children and young people who arrive in Scotland unaccompanied. It is clear from the contributions to the debate that we believe that, as a society, we need to support children who arrive in Scotland unaccompanied by a parent and that there are aspects of that support that we can improve.

All members have paid tribute to the important work done by Aberlour Child Care Trust, the Scottish Refugee Council and other partners in the Scottish guardianship service. I reiterate the recognition that I gave those organisations in my opening speech. I also welcome again the Scottish Government’s pledge of continued support for the project over the next three years.

We do that because children are children and—as many members, including Stewart Maxwell, demonstrated—we have a duty to care for children who find themselves in a country where they do not understand the language or the culture. Graeme Pearson put it best when he said that we have a moral obligation if we are to be a compassionate society.

As many have said, forced migration is sadly a fact of life for many of the world’s children. That forced migration can often cause high levels of trauma as well as mental health issues. Malcolm Chisholm spoke about the range of physical and mental health issues and the need for a friendly face—a need that the Scottish guardianship service meets.

Many members also spoke about children and young people who have fled persecution, physical abuse or, even, life-threatening situations, and about children and young people who have been trafficked to Scotland, against their will, to be exploited.

A number of other important points were raised. John Mason started his speech by saying that he had not been overly familiar with the service, but the more he found out about it, the more positive he became. I am probably the same as Mr Mason in that regard. He made an important point about learning lessons from the excellent work of the Scottish guardianship service and seeing whether those lessons could be applied to looked-after children. I was pleased to hear the minister give a reassurance on that point.

Dave Thompson talked about an internationalist approach to tackling the issues. I agree that we need an international approach to global poverty and trafficking, and I hope that the UK Government will use its influence to take such an approach, working with other Governments around the globe.

A number of other issues were raised and I hope that the Scottish Government will listen to them and take on board the comments and the concerns and do all that it can to ensure that some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland receive the specialised support that they need.

Following on from the debate, the Scottish Government should look at three key areas that are as evident now as they were at the start of the debate: consideration of how best we extend support; how we improve the support that is offered; and child trafficking.

First, on the issue of whether support should be extended, as I said earlier the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill will be discussed in the Parliament later this year. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the Government to consider whether asylum-seeking children and young people could be entitled to support similar to the support that the bill seeks to give looked-after children—namely, support from corporate parents until the age of 25.

A number of points were raised by, I think, Christina McKelvie, Sandra White and Stewart Maxwell in relation to the UK Border Agency. I will not get into the constitutional debate about that, but improvements could be made—in particular around age assessments. It would be helpful if the Scottish Government could update us on its liaison with the Home Office on the questioning of young asylum seekers and the criteria that are used to determine the age of adulthood.

Secondly, on what better support we can give asylum-seeking children to complement the job that the Scottish guardianship service is doing, it would be good to know, for example, more details of what the Scottish Government is doing to support children who are traumatised, who do not understand the language and who need on-going support to live if they are given leave to remain.

We have discussed immigration and welfare issues. However, in relation to education it would be helpful—as I said in my opening speech—if the minister either has, or could give a commitment to obtain, up-to-date information on instances of interfaith and racial bullying in Scotland’s schools. I hope that the level of bullying is not significant but I am sure that the Government will agree that it is important to look into the matter. I also ask the Scottish Government to tell us what action it will take to address those issues.

The third key area is trafficking. Murdo Fraser referred to it as one of the great social ills of our time and he is absolutely right. Many members have mentioned the issue and we know that a third of the children who are supported by the guardianship service show indicators of having been trafficked here against their will to be exploited. We also know that there are likely to be more. We need to ensure that everything possible is done to identify trafficked children and stop trafficking. It would be good to get an assurance from the Scottish Government that it and the police view the tracking down and prosecution of traffickers as a priority.

Malcolm Chisholm also made an important point about the need to train police officers to help to identify trafficked children and to prosecute traffickers. It is also good to know that the cross-party group on trafficking will consider the issue seriously later today.

Graeme Pearson was right to raise the issue of the low number of prosecutions for trafficking that have been secured.

It would be good to know how the Scottish Government is supporting young asylum seekers to give evidence against those who have exploited them and, where young people are targeted for exploitation in communities, what support police and local authorities give them and the communities.

I reiterate what my Labour colleagues and I have said about the important work that is being done by the Scottish guardianship service. We hope that that will continue to improve and help the children who, for whatever reason, end up here without parental support. Of course, we are happy to support the Government’s motion.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I thank everyone who has participated in this positive debate, in which there have been many heartfelt contributions. The debate has been constructive, and there has been a healthy amount of consensus about the topic.

No wonder. How could any of us fail to support work that helps frightened, daunted and possibly persecuted young people who arrive on our shores without the support of their family? John Mason put his 15-year-old self in the shoes of a young person who has arrived in Scotland without any family support, and Stewart Maxwell spoke about those young people’s lives through the prism of his own young daughter’s life. Those approaches give us a greater emotional appreciation of the important work that the guardianship service does. I think that all of us largely agree that supporting these frightened young individuals who arrive in Scotland is simply the right thing to do.

The debate’s tone has been correct. As Murdo Fraser has said, this is a sensitive issue. I appreciate the comments that have been made from across the chamber. Members have been appreciative of the quality of the work, which has been acknowledged by the independent evaluation of Professor Ravi Kohli and Professor Heaven Crawley. John Mason acknowledged that high-level research and evaluation when he referred to standards 7, 8 and 9 in the evaluation of the guardianship pilot. His point about the need to learn lessons and apply them across the broader suite of policies on children and young people is correct. In an intervention on John Mason, I mentioned the national mentoring scheme for young looked-after people. That very much concentrates on those young people having a stable relationship with a trusted adult, and views that as being extremely important for their long-term wellbeing and positive future outcomes.

Paul Brannigan is the star of the film “The Angel’s Share”, which was out last year. Speaking at the first learning session of the early years collaborative, he talked about his way out of the personally destructive lifestyle that he had been following. He got out through the support of his prison officer, who helped him to get through that. It was to do with more than support; it was about the stickability of that relationship, and the trust that he had in that prison officer. John Mason spoke about the importance of that sort of stable relationship with an adult, and that is what is so important about the guardianship service. Of course, it is important to apply lessons that are learned across other social policy initiatives in Scotland.

It is important to remember that the guardianship service has flourished because of the current framework for dealing with the young children and young people through GIRFEC. I recently discussed with Dr Bruce Perry another approach that has generated international interest. He said to me that he believed that progressive social policy would come from small countries. I think that the GIRFEC approach and the guardianship service show that statement to be true.

Neil Bibby made a valid point about the interplay between this issue and the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. The bill of course covers all looked-after children, including those who are voluntarily looked after, such as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

I will happily get back to Neil Bibby to furnish him with more information on interfaith and racial bullying, but the Government takes bullying very seriously regardless of the motive behind it. I am happy to have dialogue with him on that issue.

Christina McKelvie, Malcolm Chisholm, Neil Bibby and others raised the issue of trafficking. The Government is committed to improving the identification of trafficking and the prosecution of those who commit trafficking offences. In Scotland, we have firmly embedded the issue of child trafficking in our national child protection guidance, and the Scottish guardianship service has been instrumental in helping to identify child trafficking. That important issue is being considered in the on-going work of the anti-human trafficking summit, which is being led by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill. The summit is due to reconvene early next year, but there is a progress group meeting next month. I am sure that some of the points that have been raised in the debate will feed into that meeting.

Independent living arrangements as opposed to supported living arrangements for unaccompanied children have a risk attached to them. We have identified that they enhance the possibility of asylum-seeking children who have been trafficked being drawn back into the influence of the traffickers and being retrafficked. I am keen to look at ways of ensuring that appropriate accommodation for that group of children and young people remains available. I want local areas to have protocols on child trafficking in place, which all staff should be aware of, by the end of 2013. Of course, trafficking is a disgusting and criminal act, and we must do all that we can to support work on it. That work links to the work of a newly established working group, which I have tasked with looking at child sexual exploitation and ensuring that those connections are readily made.

The issue of age assessment was raised in the debate. We recognise the difficulties in establishing the age of undocumented young people and we believe that it is best done through a fair and transparent assessment that is carried out sensitively and takes a holistic look at a young person’s needs as well as likely age. Sandra White’s example highlighted the need for the holistic approach. The Scottish Refugee Council’s age assessment practice guidance has filled a gap in the area, and the Government has provided £5,000 for training on that age assessment toolkit, which I think will be welcomed by many members who have contributed to the debate.

John Mason, Christina McKelvie, Dave Thompson and Malcolm Chisholm noted the international element of the issues of asylum and immigration. The fundamental cause of the issue that we are discussing is, frankly, that people arrive on our shores because they are often fleeing from instability in their own country. In that context, John Mason and Dave Thompson rightly talked about the effect of the UK’s foreign policy footprint over a number of years. We need to remember the possibly devastating impact on children and young people now living in Scotland of hearing news reports about what is happening in their country. I think that we all agree across the chamber that a fairer and more peaceful world is possible. If we strive for that approach, that will stymie some of the issues that we have heard about in the debate of people arriving on our shores because of persecution and instability in their countries.

Christina McKelvie has a long-held interest in and knowledge of this topic and she is to be admired for the tenacity with which she has pursued the wellbeing of asylum-seeking children and young people and adults. She rightly addressed why trafficking should be an issue for child protection committees, and we will continue to take cognizance of that point. She and Annabelle Ewing also raised the issue of the UKBA’s restructuring, and I agree that we need to be alert to the impact of those changes. I will continue to ensure that Scottish interests are safeguarded, particularly as we forge our own path in dealing with immigration. Sandra White raised the frustrating issue of members of the Scottish Parliament not being treated with parity by the UKBA. Stewart Maxwell asked how we can paint a more accurate national picture through better-organised data. We will look at that issue and get back to him on it in due course.

The Scottish Government is proud of the guardianship service but, of course, as always, we need to do more to ensure that Scotland can be the nurturing country that we want it to be, especially for the children and young people who, for a number of reasons, arrive on our shores and who are very vulnerable indeed. If we want to create the best place in the world to grow up, it needs to be so for each and every child who makes Scotland their home. We must never take our foot off the gas on this important issue.

We were right to debate the topic today. It sounds as though many people did not know about this unique Scottish service, so it has been good to be able to raise awareness. The debate has also been a nice introduction to Scottish refugee week and has helped to ensure that we fully appreciate the positive contribution that refugees across Scotland make to our society and our country.