Over 65 organisations condemn placement of unaccompanied children in hotels

A letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has expressed concern at the Department for Education's authorisation for the Home Office to place children seeking asylum in Kent in minimally supported hotel accommodation.

02/08/21

Over 65 organisations condemn placement of unaccompanied children in hotels

The letter urges the Education Secretary to ensure these vulnerable children are given the care and protection they are entitled to by law.

Kent County Council stopped taking unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into its care in June due to "extreme pressure" on its services, and dozens of children have been accommodated temporarily on camp beds and the floors of Government office buildings and hotels.

The letter says the facilities are “completely inappropriate” as accommodation for children, and were never intended to meet this purpose.

Children aged 15 and under have been placed in these minimally supported accommodation facilities, despite new Department for Education legislation – which comes into force in just six weeks’ time – making it unlawful for local authorities to place children in care this age in this type of accommodation.

“We are alarmed to learn that you have authorised the Home Office to put children into hotels,” the group wrote to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. “It is also not clear on what legal basis these steps have been taken as the duty to accommodate children in need cannot simply be passed to the Home Office. The Department for Education must take the lead in ensuring these children are treated as children first.”

The statement comes after escalating tensions between the Home Office and Kent County Council, with the latter warning last month that it was close to “breaking point”. At that point, Kent County Council had nearly double the number of UASC children in care the Government says it is safe to have.

Matt Dunkley CBE, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, advised the Council Leader that the pace of arrivals and strain on care services was likely to mean he will no longer be able to safely accept any further new UASC arrivals in Kent, risking a repeat of the situation in 2020, in which the council was forced to stop accommodating vulnerable children crossing the channel after running out of appropriate accommodation.

The Home Office responded by making changes to the National Transfer Scheme, which allocates responsibility for the care of unaccompanied children, with the Home Secretary and Education Secretary encouraging more local authorities to “play their part”.

Despite additional funding and greater clarity for participating authorities as to the number of children to expect and the timing of placements, the scheme remained voluntary.

However, the signatories of the letter say the dispute over responsibility between councils and the national Government is leaving children at risk of harm.

“We are mindful of the huge financial pressures that local authorities are dealing with, and all our organisations are working constructively with local and national authorities to improve care and protection for vulnerable children in the longer term,” the letter read. “But right now, arguments about responsibility between national and local government are taking precedence over protecting children from harm.”

Last week, the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium condemned unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASCs) being accommodated in makeshift facilities as the border crisis in Kent escalated.

The coalition said it was “dismayed” that children were accommodated temporarily in these facilities, saying it is unclear what safeguarding arrangements were in place for these vulnerable children.

“We are deeply concerned about putting any child who is on their own with adults in facilities or hotels,” the group said in a joint statement. “This contravenes the protections owed to children under the Children Act 1989. Children cared for under the Children Act 1989 cannot be properly protected and cared for in Government offices or hotels.”

The coalition, which includes voluntary sector organisations such as Coram, The Children’s Society and Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), said the Home Office and local authorities must ensure that they take all steps necessary to safeguard unaccompanied children and provide them with protection.

The Home Office is under a duty to safeguard the welfare of unaccompanied children under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 and local authorities must provide care for children in need in their area.

“The Home Office has consistently failed to provide sufficient funding and support to local authorities to enable them to provide high quality care to unaccompanied children,” the statement read.

“Even though numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK seeking asylum are low, dropping from the previous year and still significantly lower than higher numbers seen in the early 2000s, the situation for children arriving has worsened. Financial and responsibility arguments between national and local government should never take precedence over protecting children from harm.”

“We urge the Home Office and Kent County Council to work together to resolve this situation immediately and ensure that sufficient resource is available to provide appropriate accommodation and support to all children arriving in the UK.”

Read the full letter and view the list of organisations joining the call: https://www.childrenengland.org.uk/news/vulnerable-children-must-receive-care

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