Councils forced to take in lone asylum seeker children as number needing care hits record high

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Home Office changes aim to stop minors who arrive without their parents from being put up in hotels

The Home Office is to force more English councils to take in child asylum seekers to stop them being put up in hotels.

The number of under-18s seeking asylum in the UK without their parents hit a record level this summer, official figures show.

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A handful of areas are currently housing a disproportionately large share of these children, causing some to be put up in hotels because of a lack of places in specialist housing.

A spokeswoman for the Government said: “We have seen high numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children arriving in the country over the past few months, and we take their welfare extremely seriously.

“We are working closely across Government and with local authorities, who have a statutory duty to protect all looked-after children in their area, to ensure that these vulnerable children are getting the care and accommodation they need and deserve.”

Local authorities were given until 7 December to object to the first tranche of transfers and a start date is to be announced soon.

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But the Home Office declined to tell NationalWorld which councils had objected, saying they would have provided reasons for not being able to take in children.

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More than 3,000 children without parents

There were 4,070 asylum seekers under 18 in council-provided care in March of this year, a number which does not include children whose asylum application was granted and who became refugees.

Government figures show the vast majority, 3,520 (86%), were in care because of absent parents, but 320 were being looked after because of abuse or neglect, 180 because their families were in acute stress, 40 because of family dysfunction and 10 because of low family income.

The local authority in which a child first lodges an asylum application is normally responsible for their care, an arrangement which puts pressure on port authorities such as Kent.

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Children can then be placed with councils across England through the voluntary National Transfer Scheme, which aims to make sure that unaccompanied child asylum seekers make up no more than 0.07% of the child population in any one area.

But not all authorities have taken part and the Home Office had been under increasing pressure to make the scheme mandatory.

Last month, the BBC revealed more than 600 minors, some younger than 10, were housed in hotels this year while awaiting permanent placements, prompting Ofsted to warn of “unacceptable safeguarding risks”.

On 23 November, migration minister Kevin Foster announced the Government’s intention to make the National Transfer Scheme mandatory on a temporary basis, to end the use of hotels.

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He said they had to do all they can to protect these children, “many of whom have gone through dangerous journeys and been exploited by despicable people smugglers”.

The announcement came amid a rise in the number of people crossing the English Channel in small boats, and just a day before the drowning of 27 people, including three children, when their vessel sank.

Protestors hold placards as they demonstrate against the Government’s policy on immigration and border controls, outside of the Home Office on November 25 following the death of 27 migrants crossing the English Channel  (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty)Protestors hold placards as they demonstrate against the Government’s policy on immigration and border controls, outside of the Home Office on November 25 following the death of 27 migrants crossing the English Channel  (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty)
Protestors hold placards as they demonstrate against the Government’s policy on immigration and border controls, outside of the Home Office on November 25 following the death of 27 migrants crossing the English Channel (Photo by Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty) | AFP via Getty Images

Highest ever number of asylum applications by lone children

A total of 1,235 unaccompanied children lodged an asylum application in July, August and September of this year, the highest quarterly figure since records began to be published in 2006.

The most applications came from children leaving Iran (377), Afghanistan (175) and Sudan (130).

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Some authorities are taking far more child asylum seekers into care than others, Department for Education figures show.

Three local authorities - South Tyneside, Barnsley and Torbay - had no child asylum seekers in care in March of this year while a further 32 had five or fewer.

Among the authorities taking in more children were many of the London boroughs - a third of all child asylum seekers in care were living in the capital.

A view of one of two areas now being used at a warehouse facility in Dover, Kent, for boats used by people thought to be migrants. The boats are stored following being intercepted in The Channel by Border Force as attempts to make the crossing continue (image: PA)A view of one of two areas now being used at a warehouse facility in Dover, Kent, for boats used by people thought to be migrants. The boats are stored following being intercepted in The Channel by Border Force as attempts to make the crossing continue (image: PA)
A view of one of two areas now being used at a warehouse facility in Dover, Kent, for boats used by people thought to be migrants. The boats are stored following being intercepted in The Channel by Border Force as attempts to make the crossing continue (image: PA) | PA

‘Regular’ arrivals of lone children

And in Kent, home to the port of Dover, nearly one in five children in care (18%) were asylum seekers.

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Dr Razia Shariff, CEO Kent Refugee Action Network, told NationalWorld the local area had “a regular and steady flow of new arrivals seeking asylum as separated young people”.

She said: “On arrival at the Kent Intake Unit, they are assessed and if deemed under 18 are taken to a hotel, because of Covid, for quarantine.”

She said child asylum seekers were then either placed at a reception centre in Kent, such as the Millbank Centre in Ashford or, if Kent was over its 0.07% threshold, they waited to be moved to another local authority.

Dr Shariff said only those under 16, female or with additional health or support needs are allocated foster carers when placed in the community.

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Otherwise they are placed into shared social housing with other separated young people seeking asylum, she said.

Migrants are helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on November 24 (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)Migrants are helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on November 24 (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
Migrants are helped ashore from a RNLI lifeboat at a beach in Dungeness, on the south-east coast of England, on November 24 (Photo by AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

Boys flee home countries in fear of becoming soldiers

One in 20 children in care in England were asylum seekers, Department for Education figures from March show.

Most (92%) were boys and 87% were aged 16 or over.

Dr Shariff said teenage boys were often fleeing regions where they could otherwise be forced to become soldiers.

She said parents were less likely to let girls, or younger children, make the perilous journey on their own.

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She said: “The pathways from different countries varies, but given the dangerous nature of the journey, and the targeting of boys to become soldiers - in Eritrea and Afghanistan for example - it is mainly young boys who arrive in the UK separated from their family.

“However we also have girls from Eritrea and Vietnam who have been trafficked.”

The Local Government Association said: “Councils will want to continue to work closely with the Government to ensure the rights and needs of children are at the heart of these new arrangements.

“These need to enable local partners to give children the help they need, including mental and physical health support and appropriate education.”

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