Social worker newsletter – November 2021

Councils across UK required to take unaccompanied children.

National transfer scheme made temporarily mandatory to end use of hotels for asylum-seeking children arriving in Kent.

Councils across the UK will be required to take unaccompanied
asylum-seeking children to end the use of hotels for those arriving in Kent.

The Home Office said today that it would make its national transfer scheme “temporarily mandatory” to ensure children arriving in the UK received the care they needed. The hitherto voluntary scheme was relaunched in July, after Kent ceased taking in new arrivals into its care due to pressures of numbers. Since then, a regional rota has been used to widen the number of authorities taking unaccompanied children into their care.

The Home Office said today it intended to end the use of hotels and that it had written to all authorities with social services responsibility in the UK, giving them legal notice to be ready to accept children into their care.

Councils for which unaccompanied children make up more than 0.07% of their general child population will not have to participate. The Home Office said that it would consider the existing child population, numbers of unaccompanied children supported, pressures on children’s services and the best interests of the child in making transfer decisions.

It said any decision to end the mandatory scheme would be based on numbers of unaccompanied children coming into the country and how long it took to end the use of hotels.

Responsibility ‘must be more equally shared’

Children’s minister Will Quince said: “Through the national transfer scheme, we know that many councils across the country have already stepped up to fulfil their duty to care for these children. “But this responsibility must be more equally shared between councils, which is why we will be mandating temporary transfers where appropriate, so that these children can access the support services they need and become successful members of their local communities.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said it recognised the “importance of everyone playing their part in addressing this national crisis.” However, ADCS president Charlotte Ramsden added that mandating the scheme was not “a complete solution to the many pressing and longstanding issues we have been raising with the government for some time.”

“These include significant placement sufficiency challenges which continue to exist, current public sector workforce capacity issues, plus resource pressures for older young people who need support post 21,” she said.

Overburdened councils welcome mandatory approach

The Home Office introduced its NTS in 2016, based on the principle that no council should be asked to look after more unaccompanied children than 0.07% of its child population.

But in practice, most asylum-seeking children in England have remained in London and the South-East – 52% as of March 2021, a similar proportion to the previous three years.

Kent and Croydon have been the only authorities in England caring for more than 200 asylum-seeking children in each of the last four years. This reflects Kent being a major port of entry and Croydon being where a Home Office asylum intake unit is based.

The situation has seen Kent stop taking asylum-seeking children into its care twice in 2020 and 2021, and Croydon’s level of unaccompanied children implicated in its significant financial problems.

Kent also threatened legal action against the Home Office earlier this year if it refused to make the NTS mandatory.

The Home Office sought to tackle the concentration of asylum-seeking children in a few authorities by relaunching the NTS in July this year with extra financial support for volunteering councils and rota system to arrange placements, but it resisted calls to make the scheme mandatory.

Both Kent and Croydon have now welcomed the Home Office’s decision to temporarily compel all councils to take asylum-seeking children.

Kent said that it had accepted 247 asylum-seeking children and transferred 150 to placements volunteered by other local authorities since it resumed services in September, at which point it was already caring for 309 children.

‘Most councils already taking children’

The Home Office has not published a list of which councils voluntarily signed up to its
national transfer scheme (NTS), but the Local Government Association (LGA) said most councils in England and Wales had already offered homes and support to asylum-seeking children.

“Councils continue to face challenges in finding appropriate homes, with ongoing issues around centrally-led age assessment and delays in decision-making adding uncertainty for both councils and young people,” James Jamieson, chairman of the LGA.

“These new arrangements must continue to swiftly take into account existing pressures in local areas, with greater join up across government to improve engagement with councils on all the programmes that support new arrivals to start new lives in the UK.”

On Monday, home secretary Priti Patel said in the House of Commons that just one local authority in Scotland had signed up to the voluntary NTS.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said there was “no funding in place for local statutory services to support people seeking asylum.”

“Unfortunately, the current scale of hotel use across the UK is a direct consequence of the approach that the UK government has chosen to take,” said Kelly Parry, COSLA’s community wellbeing spokesperson. “I have written to the home secretary seeking urgent dialogue on the role that Scottish councils can play in ensuring that asylum seekers are appropriately accommodated and supported.”

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Rob Preston and Mithran Samuel