Councils are struggling to find suitable placements for unnaccompnaied asylum seeking chidlren and cover the costs of care following the sharp increase in numbers arriving from Calais, research has found.
A survey of more than 100 councils by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services revealed a national shortage of foster carers to look after children was the main concern.
According to the latest figures, councils were supporting 4,689 unaccompanied children over the summer but that figure has risen sharply since the Calais camp known as the Jungle was cleared last week - and is set to rise further in the near future.
Using data from councils, ADCS calculated that the current funding provided by the Home Office covers an average of 50% of the costs of caring for an unaccompanied asylum seeking child.
Councils also reported concerns over the mental and physical health of children arriving in the UK, with more than a third displaying psychological symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks and depression.
ADCS president Dave Hill said councils had agreed to look after hundreds of children in the last few weeks, but costs were rising due to a shortage of appropriate places.
He added: “Finding a safe, suitable placement is the main priority for us but it is getting increasingly difficult due to the ongoing national shortage of foster carers.
“This crisis is driving up the usage of independent fostering agencies out of necessity and this in turn is driving up costs and draining already stretched council budgets.
“Sadly the foster care market has become just that, an opportunity for a small number of operators to make a huge profit from children and this is utterly unacceptable.”
Mr Hill added the current offer from government only covers the cost of certain types of placement, but not the cost of social workers and translators.
He said: “To date, the gap in funding has been filled by individual councils but this is not sustainable.
“We are increasingly concerned that our ability to meet the needs and wishes of these children and young people could be compromised as a result of this.
“Government must act swiftly to address the shortfall in funding and placement options that councils currently face to enable us to meet the needs of all those displaced.”
Responding to the survey, chairman of the Local Government Association’s asylum, migration and refugee task group David Simmonds (Con), said councils had been covering the shortfall in government funding for unaccompanied children for “many years”.
He added: “It is now imperative that councils get a long-term funding arrangement from government so that the commitment to support those children starting a new life in the UK is properly funded for the whole time that these children are with us.”