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Costs force counties to reconsider resettling child asylum seekers

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A county council is considering withdrawing from a voluntary scheme to resettle unaccompanied children seeking asylum due to spiralling costs, while another has already “suspended” its support for the programme.

Facing the prospect of overspending its looked after children budget by £9m this year, the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) scheme has put a “high” risk on Dorset CC’s finances.

Rising costs above and beyond what the government pays local authorities taking in UASC resulted in Leicestershire CC deciding in November to “disengage” from the scheme “until the full costs of providing for such young people are met”. It faced a £2m funding shortfall on the £4.6m cost of accommodating 70 UASC.

A report prepared by Dorset’s director of children’s services Sara Tough for today’s cabinet meeting said the council had already overspent £5.1m of its budget for looked-after children, and there were concerns about further financial impact if the local authority took its full allocation of 54 UASC.

“The highest risk is that the arrangements impact on the sufficiency of placements and the budget impact associated with the variation between cost and income,” Ms Tough’s report said. “This is a very significant issue due to the overall financial position of the county council.”

Dorset is currently accommodating 13 UASC. Eleven are aged over 16, while two are under the age of 16; the youngest is aged 14. There are also two care leavers who were previously looked after.

The report said children under 16 had to be placed in foster care or residential children’s homes which has “proven to be a challenge in Dorset as there are very few” foster carers able to meet the childrens’ needs. “As a result these children are being placed outside Dorset with foster carer who speak the same language/dialect as these children and better understand their cultural and religious needs,” the report said.

As the 13 UASC do not speak “more than a few words of English” interpreters are required for interviews and “general communication”, the report said. They are also each allocated a social worker which “adds to our already excessive workload for social workers and as numbers increase the pressure will exponentially increase,” the report said.

In addition, the report warned “the complexities of meeting Home Office requirements and ensuring that the child’s claim for asylum is made in a timely way also places additional pressure on the system”. The report said the work was “even more onerous when the child is placed outside of Dorset and the social worker has to travel” to make statutory visits.

While the government pays £41,610 per year for under 16s, £33,215 per year for 16- and 17-year-olds, and £200 per week for care leavers, Dorset’s report said: “The Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services is in discussion with central government to review these payments as they do not cover the actual cost of looking after these young people and local authorities will be forced to pick up the shortfall (care, social worker, and the translation services etc).”

The UASC scheme is different from the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme which is being funded by the overseas aid budget.

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