By politics.co.uk staff
A £1m government scheme to help unsuccessful asylum seekers to leave the UK helped only one family to return home.
The pilot project run by the charity Migrant Helpline was designed to reduce the number of children kept in detention every year and started in Kent in November 2007.
Up until 2000, children whose parents' asylum claims have failed are held in immigration removal centres each year, a practice criticised by charities, the chief inspector of prisons and the children's commissioner for England.
In order to remediate to the situation and to bring down the numbers, the UK Border Agency set up the one year pilot scheme which targeted 260 families.
Under the scheme, migrants who were refused asylum would stay in a residential unit and children would attend a local school while their return home would be arranged.
Yet, the scheme only dealt with 13 families, one of which returned home. This failure drew sharp criticism from the Children's Society who attributed it to the government's confused approach in a report.
Lib Dem home secretary, Chris Huhne said: "These findings are yet another indictment of the Government's shambolic and failed asylum system.
"The Government is continuing to waste money on ill-conceived and mismanaged schemes instead of taking this opportunity to rectify its unacceptable policy of detaining children.
"Applications need to be resolved efficiently and asylum seekers should be allowed to work after six months. This would enable them to support their families without the need for illiberal and expensive detention centres."
The report said that unsuitable families were sent to the centre by the UK Borders Agency as a result of 'unclear' referral criteria and that the agency was confused about the purpose of the project due to poor publicity.
Lisa Nandy, author of the report, told the BBC: "The project was mismanaged from start to finish.
"Unfortunately, when the UK Border Agency set the project up they had no clear objectives or evaluation criteria so they didn't know actually what it was they were trying to achieve."
Deputy chief executive of Migrant Helpline Roy Millard told the BBC: "There was a huge amount of learning that came out of that pilot and we hope that learning will be put to good use."
He added: "There are complex cases, referred to in the project which we have learnt an awful lot from."
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "Keeping families out of detention remains a priority.
"We all believe that it is much better if those found by the courts not to need our protection go home of their own accord.
"We are committed to finding an alternative to detaining families wherever possible.
Today's report said families only had seven days to move from heir homes and remove their children from school, which discouraged them from applying for the pilot.