When will the coalition deliver on its pledge to end child detention?

Ministers have twice promised to end child detention and twice failed. When will they come good on thier promises?

One coalition policy all progressives could welcome was the decision to end the detention of children of failed asylum-seekers. The practice – that carries the risk of pyschological harm to children – was described as a “scandal” by David Cameron.

And government ministers have been quick to try to take credit for this step to a more civilised society. Nick Clegg, one year after the coalition was formed, told party members:

 “We need to do a better job of blowing our own trumpet on policies such as… ending child detention.” 

It features in the party’s list of achievements in government which is disseminated to activists. The Conservatives have also boasted about their action on the issue.

However, the policy has not been implemented yet. At first, following the election, the coalition announced  that the practice would end by New Year 2010, with immigration minister Damian Green claiming that if any minors were left in detention by Christmas, he would dress up as Santa Claus.

With that deadline missed, the decision to end child detention was postponed until May, generating another rush of positive publicity for the deputy prime minister. And then, last Friday, it was reported the new 4,500 capacity child and family detention facility at Pease Pottage near Crawley, euphemistically entitled ‘pre-departure accommodation’, had been opened.

The plan currently is for families to be held there for up to a seven days – which is still better than the record under Labour, where children on average were held for 15 days, and sometimes for over a month. This centre is also being run jointly by security firm G4S, more used to dealing with prisoners, and the charity Barnardo’s who may be able to ensure that conditions are not as harmful for children.

However, twice ministers have set deadlines for ending the practice, and twice they have failed. Not only that, but they have attempted to take credit for it.

Will they do so again during conference season, as children who have committed no crime are still detained in ‘secure accomodation’?

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