Health Committee Recommendations: Progress - Child Migrants
Third Report: The Welfare of Former British Child Migrants (HC 755) Published: 30/07/98
Government Reply: Cm 4182 Published: 12/98
Government Response and Action
A central database should be established as soon as possible. This should contain basic information which will direct child migrants, their descendants, or their representatives to more detailed sources. The database should be managed and co-ordinated jointly by the governments involved. We urge those governments to take any steps open to them to waive or amend legislative restrictions on access to records (for instance, arising from Freedom of Information Acts or Privacy Acts), and to negotiate changes in any agency policy which limits the provision of information to former child migrants or their descendants and not to their duly nominated representatives. Individual sending and receiving agencies should make available their contribution of data in an agreed common form and at their own expense. If former child migrants are reluctant because of past history to deal with governments then the task could be delegated to organisations working on their behalf. If necessary compulsion should be used to elicit relevant material. (paragraphs 102 & 83 )
We recommend that sending and receiving agencies, local authorities and governments should accept the principle that all relevant information held on former child migrants should be passed on, with due sensitivity, to those concerned, their descendants or representatives, on request (paragraph 82).
Accepts that it should seek to help former child migrants gain access to material which will help them trace their families. It recognises that setting up a central index of basic information held in this country would be a step towards meeting their needs. It therefore intends to commission such an index - which would signpost former child migrants to primary sources, rather than to replicate all the information.
The Government has funded a Central Information Index, via the National Council of Voluntary Child Care Organisations (NCVCCO) to help child migrants trace their roots. The Index was installed in November 1999 and although not fully complete it is operational. There are 9,032 records currently on the Index.
Former child migrants, their descendants or nominated representatives should have immediate access to all files containing information concerning their history and background. They should be advised to seek preparatory counselling before receiving sensitive items. (paragraph 103)
Following the HoC Adjournment Debate on child migrants in 1993, the Government made public all the historical files that were known to exist on the child migration schemes. In the case of access to any personal records held on individuals by the sending agencies the Government does not wish to legislate as these provisions exist to protect the personal rights of all the individuals concerned. The Government agrees that such sensitive information should be given within a counselling context.
Sending and receiving agencies should make available help with tracing families on request. (paragraphs 104 & 86)
The British Government should establish a Travel Fund with the intention of giving former child migrants the opportunity to visit the country of their birth, attend family reunions or visit sites of personal importance. Representative organisations should be allowed to submit applications on behalf of former child migrants. All such visits should be properly monitored and supervised, since many former child migrants are in a fragile mental, emotional and sometimes physical condition. Volunteers should be sought from voluntary organisations and other appropriate bodies to provide accommodation and support for visiting former child migrants. (paragraphs 105 & 89)
Accepts - the government is willing to commit £1million over the next three years to it.
The Government has set up a Support Fund (£1 million over three years from April 1999 managed by International Social Services) to enable first time reunions between former child migrants and their immediate relatives in the UK through paying travel and subsistence costs.
When reunions are proposed, family members who are to be met also require expert support. Counselling should be available free of charge. All governments should provide access to counselling. Sending or receiving agencies whose help is sought should provide this service at their own expense. (paragraph 106)
Accepts - it should be provided by or arranged through the organisation facilitating contact.
Former child migrants visiting the UK should not be disadvantaged by loss of social security payments during their stay. In New Zealand the Associate Minister of Social Welfare indicated that he would be happy to look at what might be done to help. A memorandum from the Department of Social Welfare in New Zealand received on 3 July concludes that "most recipients of income-tested benefits would lose their benefit eligibility after 4 weeks of absence from New Zealand. However, the current legislation provides for an absence from New Zealand of up to 4 weeks for humanitarian reasons in the case of beneficiaries who would otherwise not be able to leave New Zealand at all and maintain their benefit eligibility. For social security purposes former child migrants should be treated as a special case in whichever country they reside. In the UK, the Habitual Residence Test should not be applied as a test for eligibility for appropriate social security benefits. (paragraph 107)
We do not believe that the benefit system is the best way of providing such help. We propose that the Fund will be able to provide help towards basic subsistence.
The Support Fund provides help towards basic subsistence
Given the positive response from governments, citizenship matters should not now be a problem for former child migrants. But in New Zealand we heard from a former child migrant who had been sent to Australia, and who, now living in New Zealand, experienced difficulties in travelling between the two countries. Such discrepancies are a nonsense and should be rectified by the governments concerned as a matter of urgency. Flexibility and understanding should be shown to former child migrants by all governments where documentation is concerned. (paragraph 108)
The invaluable work done by the Child Migrants' Trust in tracing families and providing counselling should be expanded. The Government should make available sufficient funds for the Trust to be able to offer a comprehensive service to any former child migrant who requires it. In return for adequate funding the Trust will need to demonstrate full accountability; this may entail some degree of restructuring of its organisation. Its accounts will need to be independently audited, which has not so far been the case. (paragraph 109)
The Government has increased funding for the Child Migrants Trust to £500,000 over three years (1999-2002) which helps former child migrants with tracing and counselling.
We have seen evidence of former child migrants who are psychologically damaged by their experiences in childhood. Therapy and counselling should be available to those who need it. (paragraphs 110 & 88)
Those who require therapy should already have access to appropriate treatment within the relevant health services here and overseas.
Markedly different views have been expressed to us by former child migrants about the issue of compensation payments. Many believe that such a measure might impede the provision of records if governments or agencies become unduly nervous about the financial consequences of irregularities or indiscretions contained therein. We therefore do not recommend a compensation payment. Matters concerning identity and background are much more important to former child migrants. However, we would expect the full weight of the law to be felt in cases where physical and sexual abuse against former child migrants can be proven. Courts should award the maximum possible damages when a conviction is obtained. We would like to see Statutes of Limitation suspended in all cases related to the abuse of former child migrants. (paragraph 111)
Accepts that the question of compensation is inappropriate.
Legal aid should be available for all court cases connected with inheritance problems experienced by former child migrants or where redress is sought for past criminal abuse and appropriate evidence is available. (paragraph 112)
The Government intends to reform the legal aid scheme - the needs of child migrants will be borne in mind.
We ask the governments of Canada, New Zealand and Australia to consider giving financial support to organisations in their respective countries who represent the interests of former child migrants. (paragraph 113)
This is not a matter for the British Government.
We recommend that both in the UK and in all receiving countries there should be a designated official trained in dealing with queries from former child migrants and making necessary referrals. (paragraph 114)
A Child Migrants information website has been operational since 1 March 1999. An information leaflet has also been published, this provides information on support for former child migrants wishing to trace their families. It also gives details of the DH contact point.
We ask the Social Services Select Committee in New Zealand to undertake a detailed inquiry into the circumstances of former child migrants there. The Department of Social Welfare has so far refused an inquiry for three reasons: i) the cost, ii) the risk of further claims for compensation, iii) the risk of precedent. (paragraph 115)
This is not a matter for the British Government.
We urge the Federal Government of Australia to initiate an inquiry into post-war practices in institutions such as Bindoon and Neerkol, with a view to establishing the truth behind allegations of physical, mental and sexual abuse; discovering the names of any perpetrators; and prosecuting any surviving members of staff against whom evidence is available. (paragraph 116)
This is not a matter for the British Government.
The British Government should convene immediately a conference involving all interested parties, including governments, sending agencies, receiving agencies, representatives of former child migrants, information technology experts, genealogists etc. This would allow the opportunity to discuss the problems faced by former child migrants and to plan for a cohesive rather than a fragmented approach to their solution. (paragraph 117)
Considers at present the main priority for time and funds to be the carrying forward of the arrangements described above. The Government would be open to suggestions as to how the historic policy of child migration be commemorated.
We have received different views on the issue of an apology for the human suffering arising from the British child migration scheme. Some felt it to be irrelevant, but there was a significant number who would welcome a formal acknowledgement of the wrongs they had suffered. We believe an apology is in order but think that the best acknowledgment would be for the British Government to take urgent action on the recommendations in this report. (paragraph 118)
Considers that these policies were misguided. To those and their families who see themselves as still deeply scarred it offers sincere regrets. To all it offers a sympathetic recognition of the special challenges they faced in building their lives.