Since July 2021, 4,600 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have arrived in the UK. The majority are aged between 14 and 17 years. These children are separated from their parents, carer or legal guardian. Many come from Sudan where child marriage for girls is legal from the age of 10. Others come from Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Albania, Ethiopia and Syria. Some are fleeing persecution & civil war or the loss of their family, be it murder, detainment or so-called disappearance. Some are escaping being forced to fight as a child soldier.
Treatment in the UK
The Refugee Council reports that children are regularly trafficked to be forced into domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and other forms of forced labour including cannabis cultivation or county line drug running, once they reach the UK.
These vulnerable children are placed in a mix of foster care and ‘semi-independent residential settings’, often temporary hotels. The cost of accommodation as well as lack of intervention of child protection agencies, assigned social workers, or police checking of supervising staff coupled with the disappearance of children has all generated controversy.
Hertfordshire County Council’s plan
Hertfordshire County Council’s Integrated Plan (budget) 2024-25, has revealed cost-cutting plans to develop a new ‘campus’ for up to 60 separated migrant children, all aged 16 to 18. The £1.5m campus will provide accommodation as well as classrooms, IT suites, sports facilities and community facilities, ‘with a range of other services on site’.
The council also intend that the campus to be used by some young people leaving care in Hertfordshire and those who ‘struggle’ to access mainstream provisions.
The report states that “Acting as an education, health and community hub, this provision will bring all the essential elements of care together into one place, enable support to be tailored to the needs of those on site as well as reduce the current costs of supporting young people to access these services within the community.”
According to Hertfordshire County Council’s papers, the number of separated migrant children being cared for is increasing. The current figure of 163 for these migrant children is reported to be 20% higher than in March 2023 – and 60% cent higher than in March 2022. Moreover, the £12m funding received from the government for their care is ‘currently insufficient’ – covering only ‘costs of provision’. The establishment of the £1.5m campus is estimated to cut annual costs by around £879k a year.
Alternative approach for asylum-seeking children
Norfolk County Council’s approach towards unaccompanied asylum seeking children arriving in Norfolk is different. The council has created “a high-performing specialist county team that supports the emotional, cultural, health, social and educational needs”. The team is comprised of multi-agency partnerships from health, education, placement commissioners and the voluntary sector working together with a multi-disciplinary team staffed with social workers, personal advisers, a psychotherapist, a welfare rights officer, a dedicated housing officer and teaching assistants.
As a result, Norfolk County Council was named best “transferring” local authority in the east region in August 2022. In common with Hertfordshire, Norfolk has seen the number of unaccompanied migrant children rise from 35 to 45 in mid-2019 to over 300 at the end of 2022.
The council rents 12 flats from a local housing association where young people can live while awaiting the housing officer’s decision on their future accommodation. This arrangement is described as affordable for the council and is funded by the government’s National Transfer Scheme. The scheme allows residents to continue to live there, until ready to move on once asylum has been granted since they are then eligible to receive housing benefit. Due to its success there are plans to increase this provision.
Article includes information from the Local Democracy Reporting Service by Deborah Price