A pilot team of expert social workers will be distributed to support local authorities throughout the UK on age assessment of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, the Home Office has announced.
As part of changes to the National Transfer Scheme announced by the government, the pilot of expert social workers will be utilised to help local authorities assessing the age of unaccompanied asylum seeking children ahead of broader age assessment reforms under the New Plan for Immigration.
Cllr Nick Forbes, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Asylum, Migration and Refugee Task Group, said councils face difficulties in finding appropriate homes for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, “while ongoing challenges around age assessment and asylum claims add uncertainty for both councils and young people”.
“By working closely together, councils and the government can make the national transfer arrangements work to enable all areas of the country to play their part in supporting our asylum system for both children and adults in a fair and transparent way,” he added.
The changes to the National Transfer Scheme come after Kent Council threatened the government with legal action as their services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were fast approaching breaking point for the second time in a year.
Kent currently has nearly double the number of UASC children in care the government says it is safe to have. Council leader Roger Gough said he was preparing to issue a judicial review against the Home Secretary.
The Home Office has announced plans for imminent changes to the National Transfer Scheme which means that responsibility for unaccompanied asylum seeking children will be more fairly distributed across the UK.
The scheme will provide local authorities with increased funding and take into account local pressures on local services. By having a ‘rota’ of these transfers, the updated scheme will provide regions and local authorities with greater clarity as to the number of children to expect and the timing of those placements, allowing them time to plan ahead and better manage their capacity.
Minister for Immigration Compliance and Justice Chris Philp said: “I am grateful for the many local authorities that support a significant number of vulnerable young asylum seekers.
“But the current system has not been working as intended with significant pressures being placed on particular areas. Caring for unaccompanied asylum seeking children is a national responsibility, which is why we are introducing a system that will ensure that these children and young people continue to receive the support they need whilst also ensuring a fairer distribution across the UK.
“We recognise the financial impact the current asylum system can have on the public purse which is why we are bringing forward the New Plan for Immigration which will fix the broken system welcoming those most in need through safe and legal routes, while preventing abuse of the system,” he added.
Factors informing the new managed approach include the size of the child population in that region, the number of supported asylum seekers and the capacity of children’s services. The improved voluntary scheme includes increased funding totaling more than £20m for local authorities (backdated from 1 April this year).
Minister for Children and Families Vicky Ford said: “Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can be some of the most vulnerable in our care, having often faced dreadful exploitation from traffickers.
“We know that many areas have played their part to date but it’s absolutely right that local authorities around the country step up and share the role of supporting these young people to settle where appropriate and make valuable contributions to their communities.”
The changes to the National Transfer Scheme will come into effect as soon as possible and are as a result of a joint Home Office and DfE consultation with local authorities across the UK.