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ADCS: Government funding for child asylum seekers ‘wholly inadequate’

Meeting the needs of unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) is creating increasing pressures on local authorities which government funding is failing to meet, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said.

In a new report, ADCS estimated that Home Office funding to help councils meet the needs of UASC covers at most 50% of the costs, leaving a shortfall of £3.4m per 100 UASC each year.

The population of UASC nearly doubled in the last two years from 2,050 in March 2014 to 4,210, with numbers due to grow as more children are brought in under the Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act.

Dave Hill, president of ADCS, said: “As leaders of children’s services we are doing all that we can to respond to this humanitarian crisis but the ongoing lack of clarity about the exact numbers of children, young people and families expected to arrive through the various resettlement schemes is making it extremely difficult to plan.”

He added that the “will to help these vulnerable children” is largely strong in local government, and in local communities, but as the ADCS research shows “the funding provided by central government is wholly inadequate”.

“We are increasingly concerned that our ability to meet the needs and wishes of these children and young people could be compromised as a result of this,” said Hill.

The numbers of UASC were also unevenly distributed throughout the country. They made up 13.7% of the population in the south east and 14.6% in London. In contrast, they made up 0.5% of the total population of looked-after children in the north east, and 0.8% in the north west.

A Home Affairs Select Committee report, published earlier this year, found similar unevenness in the response to the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme, with just 18% of councils taking in any refugees at the time.

Some media reports have questioned the age of some of the older boys who recently arrived in Britain, leading Conservative MP David Davies to call for teeth checks for newly arrived children.

The latest ADCS report said that older children and boys are more likely to be UASC. Of the current population, 76% are aged 16 or 17 and 92% are male. In 2015, nearly 800 age disputes about UASC were raised, compared to 318 the year before. It also noted that the age disputes are increasing the cost for local authorities.

Hill said that older UASC were more likely to need local authority support once they left the care system if they didn’t have any family in the country. He added that there was “a tension between the government’s own policies” on UASC and education, with UASC suffering from the national shortage of school places, cuts to English language teaching, and the fact that many apprenticeships are only open to those who have been in the country for three or more years.

The report also showed that UASC are more likely to have complex problems which are difficult to meet because council services are already under pressure.

For example, UASC are more likely to be placed in foster care, but there is currently a shortage of foster carers. In the case of UASC, this is made more complicated because local authorities want to place them with families from their own culture, but the report said this was “not always possible”. They are also more likely to need access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), which local authorities said are suffering from high demand, limited resources and long waiting lists.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are grateful for the ongoing support of local authorities who care for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and have substantially increased the amount of funding we provide them.

"The rates we pay are calculated using information, including financial data, submitted by local authorities to the Home Office. This data shows we meet the vast majority of costs associated with unaccompanied asylum seeking children.”

(Image c. Muhammed Muheisen from AP/ Press Association Images)

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