Councils to be temporarily forced to take share of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
The National Transfer Scheme, which allocates the placement of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children across the country and until now was optional for local authorities, is to become mandatory.
The Minister for Safe and Legal Migration, Kevin Foster, has written to all local authorities with children’s services across the UK to inform them of the government’s intention to temporarily mandate the National Transfer Scheme.
Under the change all local authorities have been given legal notice to accept transfers of children into their care, providing crucial placements to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC).
The Home Office says the decision to mandate the scheme is vital to ensure unaccompanied asylum-seeking children receive the critical care they need and end the use of hotels for them following the unprecedented recent pressure placed on the asylum system.
It adds that whilst many local authorities have been providing support under the voluntary scheme announced in the summer, this is a national issue that requires all local authorities play their part. Therefore, urgent steps must be taken to ensure immediate, fuller participation that is fair for all local authorities with children’s services across all parts of the country.
“It’s right we do all we can to protect unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, many of whom have gone through dangerous journeys and been exploited by despicable people smugglers,” Kevin Foster, the Minister for Safe and Legal Migration said.
“I am grateful for the continued, and invaluable, support of local authorities across the country who have provided crucial placements to vulnerable young asylum-seekers.
“This decision has not been taken lightly but it is in the best interests of these children to make sure they receive the support they need.”
The Home Office will consider a number of factors when transferring children to a local authority including the existing child population, the number of supported asylum seekers and pressures on children’s services, and the best interests of the child.
Local Authorities will not need to accept unaccompanied asylum-seeking children where this cohort already makes up 0.07% or more of their general child population.
The scheme will be kept under review and the length of time for mandating will be determined by a range of factors including intake levels and how long it takes to end the use of hotels.
Local authorities will have a 14-day notice period where representations may be put forward regarding a transfer which will be given careful consideration. A start date for mandatory National Transfer Scheme transfers will be confirmed as soon as possible following the initial notice period.
Following last year’s joint consultation with the Home Office and Department of Education – as well as the threat of legal action from Kent County Council – an extra £20 million of additional funding was made available to support councils taking on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The National Transfer Scheme was hoped to allow unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to be moved to a different local authority to begin a care placement rather than responsibility falling disproportionately on certain local authorities or those where they arrived, such as Kent County Council and Croydon Council.
Cllr Georgia Gould, Chair of London Councils, said she welcomed the decision to make the scheme mandatory.
“London boroughs are currently caring for 1,500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children - a third of the national total. These children enter the country having faced difficult and traumatic circumstances from a young age and need specialist support to make a fresh start.
“Boroughs believe that a mandatory national transfer scheme is an important first step in a different and fairer approach to responding to this national challenge and we look forward to working with government on this.”
Commenting on the announcement, Charlotte Ramsden, ADCS President, said the association has been working with local authorities and officials towards a sustainable solution to the rising number of asylum seeking children arriving alone on UK shores, but recognises the “current urgency” of need over and above what is already being offered.
“Whilst mandating the National Transfer Scheme will help towards the goal of caring for all children who have arrived in such dire circumstances, this is not a complete solution to the many pressing and longstanding issues we have been raising with the government for some time.
“These include significant placement sufficiency challenges which continue to exist, current public sector workforce capacity issues, plus resource pressures for older young people who need support post 21.
“The improved funding arrangements in general are helpful. It will be for individual local authorities to make their representations to government as to whether they are able to safely discharge their duties while also being mandated to take part in the National Transfer Scheme but as ADCS we do recognise the importance of everyone playing their part in addressing this national crisis.”
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