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Unaccompanied migrant children – government to publish strategy next year

Children’s Services directors publish report of migrant children’s needs and LAs' response

The Department for Education has undertaken to publish a strategy by 1 May 2017, which will set out detail on how unaccompanied migrant children should be safeguarded and their welfare promoted.

Edward Timpson, the Minister for Children, said in a written statement to Parliament that the strategy will complement and build on existing safeguarding guidance and procedures, in recognition of the increased numbers and specific needs of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children already in the UK, unaccompanied children who are transferred to the UK from Europe, and unaccompanied children who are resettled directly from outside Europe. It will also set out the practical steps the government will take to implement this plan.

The strategy will set out plans to increase the number of foster carers (as to which see the comments of Dave Hill below). The DfE and Home Office will work together to make sure the system for identifying and uniting children with family or potential carers is further strengthened. The department will also revise the statutory guidance published in 2014 on the 'Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children'.

The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) has published a special thematic report on unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children using data included in the ADCS Safeguarding Pressures Phase 5 research, which will be published towards the end of November.

The thematic report draws together returns from over 100 local authorities in England and provides an insight into the characteristics and needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children and the services available or being developed by councils to meet these needs.

This research shows that:

Dave Hill, President of the ADCS, said:

"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. Earlier this year the Fostering Network suggested that an extra 7,600 foster carers were needed in England, this figure is now much greater as we prepare for the arrival of more unaccompanied children and young people in the coming weeks. 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.

"Once they turn 18 UASCs understandably require further support as they do not have their own family around them to help them to prepare for higher study, find employment or their own place to live. Lots of authorities told us in this research that the children and young people they are supporting are finding it hard to understand why it takes the Home Office so long to process their claims for asylum with some cases taking up to three years. This delay adds further stresses and strains on young people who may find it hard to fully settle into their new life and embrace all of the opportunities open to them in this country with this uncertainty hanging over them. This must be an action point for central government.

"Every child and young person, irrespective of how they have arrived in this country, has a right to education or training to help them realise their ambitions. Yet this research highlights challenges in this area, not least accessing language courses when national funding has been cut, the national shortage of school places and the fact that many apprenticeships schemes are only open to those who have been in the country for three or more years. This highlights a tension between the government's own policies which urgently need reviewing.

"As leaders of children's services we are doing all that we can to respond to this humanitarian crisis but the ongoing lack of clarity about the exact numbers of children, young people and families expected to arrive through the various resettlement schemes is making it extremely difficult to plan. The will to help these vulnerable children is largely strong in local government, and in local communities, but as our research shows the funding provided by central government is wholly inadequate. As shown by the research the enhanced funding rates made available to councils covers the cost of some types of placements but not social work time and translators. 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. We must put aside politics and remember that each and every child has their own story their needs must be at the forefront of every decision we take from now on. 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."

The full thematic report on unaccompanied and asylum seeking refugee children can be found here. The Ministerial statement is here.