London Councils warn asylum-seeking children being failed by broken system

Unaccompanied child asylum seekers are in danger of not getting the care they need due to a breakdown in Government plans to support them, it has been claimed.

The situation means that instead of caring for the children – who may have fled horrific scenes of civil war and trauma in their homelands – “we risk putting them through a second ordeal”, according to Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ executive member for schools and children’s services.

In what it describes as a clear sign that the system is broken, London Councils (LC) states that not a single unaccompanied child was transferred from London through the Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme in the first quarter of this year, compared to 33 who were transferred in the same period in 2018.

LC, a cross-party organisation which represents London’s 32 boroughs and the City of London, said the transfer scheme, which was created to share responsibility for caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), was not working and that this was piling pressure on areas where the children who were separated from their families were most likely to present themselves.

These areas include the Port of Dover in Kent, Heathrow Airport in Hillingdon, the Home Office Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, Gatwick Airport in West Sussex, as well as the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth.

LC said that data from a survey of 26 London boroughs showed the number of under-18-year-old UASCs in London had increased by 17% while the number of former UASC care leavers aged 18 to 25 there had increased by almost 50% over the last two years.

London boroughs estimated that 1,800 UASC were in their care in the 2018/19 financial year.

LC said there were annual shortfalls in the cost of caring for a UASC in addition to the costs involved in supporting them when they left care.

LC is calling for a funding boost to councils to help care for UASCs and for the transfer scheme to be revived.

Ms Aiken (pictured) said it was “hugely worrying” that the transfer scheme was not working and that London boroughs feared it would leave them “unable to cope” with caring for growing numbers of UASC.

She said: “Child asylum seekers come to the UK fleeing civil war and trauma – witnessing scenes no child should have to see – to build a better life here.

“For decades, our response as a nation has been to welcome them with open arms. When these children get help, they’re excelling and integrating in our communities.

“We urgently need additional funding and an open dialogue with Government to get the National Transfer Scheme up and running again.

“If we cannot commit to supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children properly, we risk putting them through a second ordeal.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Children’s social care is funded through the local government finance settlement and the Home Office provides an additional contribution to the costs of looking after unaccompanied asylum seeking children, which was recently increased following a review of the funding arrangements.

“The Home Office is committed to supporting a more balanced distribution of children across the UK, which is why the National Transfer Scheme was introduced in 2016.

“Since then, nearly 900 children have been transferred to authorities with capacity to look after them.

“We continue to work in partnership with the Department for Education and local government, including London Councils, to improve the scheme and call upon all authorities across the UK to step up and do their bit to support the care of these vulnerable children.”

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