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Call for national response to rising numbers of asylum-seeking children

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The government should set up a national system to disperse unaccompanied child asylum seekers, the Local Government Association has said.

The LGA would like to see a system to distribute the children around the country – similar to the system for adult asylum seekers – in order to reduce the pressure on authorities like Kent CC and Hillingdon and Croydon LBCs which take a disproportionate number of unaccompanied children.

The number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers aged 17 or under in the care of Kent has almost quadrupled in 16 months. The council said it was caring for 872 children on 11 October compared with 220 in May.

Of these, 110 children are living in placements outside Kent and Medway but just 35 have been permanently transferred to other councils.

Most recent arrivals came from Eritrea, with Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria also well represented. A large majority were aged 16 or 17 and male

In an update published by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Kent said it had recruited over 20 more social workers, three team managers and a service manager to specialist teams working with unaccompanied child asylum seekers.

David Simmonds (Con), chair of the children and young people’s board at the LGA, told LGC costs, such as foster care fees, were lower in some parts of the country but at the moment care companies might charge more in the small number of authorities where demand is extremely high. He said: “We could make resource go further through a national system.”

Meanwhile, ministers are separately considering the level of funding that councils should receive to help the 20,000 Syrians the UK has agreed to help over five years.

Mr Simmonds said the Home Office did not anticipate there would be unaccompanied children on the first year of the programme as effort would be made to reunite the children with their families before they arrive in the UK but there could be some unaccompanied young people in subsequent years.

He said the government had already agreed to reimburse councils in full, that the money would not come from local government funding, and that the first year of the programme would be paid for by the government’s foreign aid budget.

However the amount of money councils will receive is still being agreed.

The issue was also discussed at the National Children’s and Adults Services Conference in Bournemouth last week. LGC understands some councils expressed concern about costs given the injuries, health problems and trauma of people who have already come through the existing UN programme to resettle people from Syria. Mr Simonds said: “We have been clear the costs of the current scheme is a good starting point but historic experience of local authorities is that funding has always fallen short of actual costs particularly for children.”

The Department for Education is talking to a number of authorities about how best to work with unaccompanied child asylum seekers and a spokesman said there was no preferred option at present.

 

Councils also wondered what would happen to people who wanted to stay in the UK once the five year programme is up.

He added that more adult education classes, particularly in English, would need to be provided to ensure people are able to work.

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