Lone asylum-seeking children looked after in England ‘up by third in a year’

The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) being looked after in England has risen by a third in a year, figures show.

There were 5,570 UASC being looked after as of March 31, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

This is up 34% from the previous year, when numbers dropped by almost a fifth during the coronavirus pandemic, and is a rise of 10% from March 2020.

UASC now represent 7% of all looked-after children – up from 5% last year and 6% in 2018.

Most are boys (95%) and 13% were under 16.

Under the now-mandatory National Transfer Scheme, councils around the country share the responsibility for looking after unaccompanied youngsters.

In 2022 the local authorities that looked after the most UASC were Kent (370 young people), Hillingdon (139) and Manchester (138).

Overall, there were 82,170 looked-after children in England in March – up 2% in a year.

Over half were male (56%), and 73% were white, while children from black, mixed and other ethnic groups were overrepresented.

Two-thirds of children became looked after because they were at risk of abuse or neglect.

Most children were placed in foster placements (71%), secure units, children’s homes or semi-independent living accommodation (16%) or with parents or another person with parental responsibility (7%).

The number of children fostered by a relative or friend has increased by 29% since 2018, and makes up around 15% of looked-after children.

Children in unregulated placements, such as semi-independent living or living independently, have increased by 23% since last year, representing 9% of looked-after children.

Over the year to March 2022, there were 76,890 missing incidents reported concerning 12,150 looked-after children.

Almost two-thirds of incidents were children going missing from secure units, children’s homes or semi-independent living accommodation, which is likely to have been due to older children being placed in these settings.

The majority (90%) of missing incidents lasted for two days or less.

Councils have a duty to provide accommodation that is in the local authority area, meets the needs of the child and allows them to live near their home.

While the majority of children were placed withing 20 miles of their home, over a fifth (21%) were not.

The figures also show the number of looked-after children who were adopted rose by 2% since last year to 2,950.

The DfE describes this as a “modest” increase after a fall of 18% the previous year due to court cases stalling or taking longer during the pandemic.

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