The commodification of unaccompanied child migration

Rosen, R. (2024). “The commodification of unaccompanied child migration: A double move of enclosure.” The Sociological Review, online first.

Abstract: In England, unaccompanied child migrants who seek asylum are the responsibility of the local state, who acts as their ‘corporate parent’. While these young people are ostensibly supported by children’s services in keeping with responsibilities under the Children’s Act 1989, in comparison to ‘local’ children unaccompanied children are disproportionately placed in unregulated, outsourced accommodation. Drawing on data from the Children Caring on the Move research project – including over 180 interviews with unaccompanied young people, frontline workers, accommodation owners and policy makers – I argue that this part of the care system can be understood as a double move of enclosure. First, I argue that claims about the unpredictability of arrivals of unaccompanied children are used as a rationale for the marketisation of children’s services, part of an enclosure of what was previously public. Second, I point to the enclosure, and commodification, of unaccompanied children themselves. They not only become a source of profit in this enclosed sector through their statuses as ‘child’ and ‘unaccompanied migrant’, but the limited forms of support provided in outsourced and unregulated provision make it more difficult for many to regularise their status before being subject to enforced destitution or deportability as non-citizen adults. The article contributes to efforts to theorise contemporary processes of enclosure in racial capitalism, adds to understandings of the UK’s ‘asylum market’ which to date has focused almost primarily on adult or family migrants, and sheds new light on causalities of care in the UK’s marketised and bordered children’s services.