Children’s Minister warns councils could be mandated to look after more unaccompanied child migrants

The Government could require councils to look after more child migrants who arrive on Britain’s shores unaccompanied if they do not step forward to do more voluntarily.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford (pictured) suggested the Government will be forced to mandate placements if there are too few offers for the voluntary National Transfer Scheme.

She implored local authorities to “consider whether there is more you can do now” to protect unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) who need care and support.

Asked what the Government will do if there are not enough offers of placements for unaccompanied minors, Ms Ford said it will have to “go through a mandation”.

Speaking at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) annual conference, she said: “Sometimes local authorities say that these young people will not want to live in rural areas, or outside the big cities, as reasons why some areas feel that they cannot step forward and play their part.

“I know that meeting these young people’s needs can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding.

“Many of these young people can go on and thrive wherever they go to live.

“The experiences of councils such as Norfolk, which has gone from having very few UASC to caring for a significant number as a result of moral leadership and a concerted effort, demonstrates that. I know too that others have made similar contributions.

“But I also need to ask that you consider whether there is more you can do now to provide placements for the young people that are continuing to arrive and in need of help.”

Last month, Kent County Council – which takes in those coming ashore on the south coast – warned that it had “reached the limit” for the number of unaccompanied child migrants it can look after for the second time in a year.

Around the same time, the Home Office announced measures to ensure that responsibility will be “more fairly distributed” across the UK.

These include increased funding of more than £20 million and a rota of transfers, and follows a consultation with local authorities.

Ms Ford said the consultation had received “very varied” views, with a third wanting mandation, a third strongly against it, and a third in between these two positions, and therefore she would prefer to have councils step forward voluntarily.

She said the Government funding should ensure that local authorities do not feel that taking on a UASC will be an additional financial burden.

Councils supporting children or care leavers with exceptional needs can apply for extra money from the Home Office, so “there should not be any financial reasons why you can’t step forward”, she said.

Recruitment for new and different types of foster carers is also continuing, which should mean there is no additional pressure on existing pools, she added.

“I really would encourage you to look at trying to get behind this system,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an always continuing problem, because, as I’ve said, the new Borders Bill, I think, will help to change the dynamics, so that the people-trafficking that brings the children in in this way will have extra preventions against it.

“So, this is why, please step forward this summer, let’s try and make it work.

“And actually, many, many local authorities have… I mean, last year over 500 children moved through the National Transfer Scheme, and that was before we put these extra financial arrangements around.

“So, please keep going, because otherwise we’ll have to go through a mandation, and I think that that can be much more complicated for the local authorities as well.”

Ms Ford also announced a new £24 million programme designed to try and level up outcomes for vulnerable children such as UASC, those subject to female genital mutilation, and those caught up in gangs.

The Children’s Social Care Covid-19 Regional Recovery and Building Back Better Fund would be distributed through nine regions in England.

Each area would get between £2 and £3 million, including £50,000 for each region to help local authorities accommodate UASC.

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