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Treatment of UASC slammed by charities

The Department for Education's authorisation for the Home Office to place asylum seeking children in Kent in minimally supported hotel accommodation has been slammed by a coalition of almost 70 charities.

The group, led by Children England and which includes Article 39, The Children’s Society, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, NCB and NSPCC, has raised concerns that that extremely vulnerable children are being held in short-term holding facilities and accommodated in hotels with very limited adult supervision and care.

In a letter to education secretary Gavin Williamson, the charities said: “As you know, Kent County Council stopped taking unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into its care in June due to "extreme pressure" on its services. Despite a damning report from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons criticising the Border Force for inadequate oversight of detention practices for children, children have been held for extended periods of time at the short-term holding facility Kent Intake Unit and most recently in hotels. These facilities are completely inappropriate as accommodation for children, and were never intended to meet this purpose.”

“To address this, rather than ensuring that very vulnerable and often traumatised children are looked after by local authorities, as the Children Act 1989 requires, we are alarmed to learn that you have authorised the Home Office to put children into hotels. This includes children who are aged 15 and under. This is despite the Department for Education introducing new legislation, which comes into force in six weeks’ time, making it unlawful for local authorities to place children in care this age in this type of accommodation. 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 letter added.

The letter highlights that:

  • Unaccompanied children arriving in the UK have had to flee persecution and human rights abuses, experiencing long and arduous journeys.
  • As a result, they need to be looked after in a place where they can begin to feel safe as soon as possible.
  • The Home Office’s continued holding of children either in the Kent Intake Unit or in contingency accommodation, such as hotels, breaches their child welfare obligations under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
  • It could also amount to an unlawful deprivation of liberty and a breach of the Children Act 1989 which is clear that corporate parenting duties rest with local authorities.

Some of the members of the group – which also includes The Refugee Council, The Fostering Network, BASW, TACT, and Association of Lawyers for Children - wrote to the Children’s Minister at the start of the year, raising concerns about the treatment of children arriving unaccompanied into Kent and the urgent need for reforms to the National Transfer Scheme.

Vicky Ford recognised that “suitable care of these vulnerable children is paramount” and emphasised that Department for Education officials had been working with the Home Office and local authorities to secure placements for newly arriving children and young people as “a matter of priority” whilst also considering and developing “the options for sustainable change”.

However, the latest letter to Gavin Williamson highlights that six months on, the situation for children has become “even more desperate”.

“Reports of vulnerable children sleeping on military-style camp-beds and being placed in hotels with limited numbers of agency staff expose fundamental fault-lines in our care system, which should be able to offer loving care and protection equally to all children, irrespective of their circumstances,” the letter added.

It continued that while numbers of unaccompanied children arriving in the UK seeking asylum are lower than last year, the situation for children arriving has worsened. The organisations recognise that local authorities are dealing with huge financial pressures and all organisations are working constructively with local and national authorities to improve care and protection for vulnerable children in the longer term.

“But right now, arguments about responsibility between national and local government are taking precedence over protecting children from harm,” said the letter.

“We urge you, as cabinet minister with responsibility for vulnerable children, to ensure this situation is resolved immediately and that appropriate lawful care and accommodation is provided to all unaccompanied children arriving in the UK,” the letter concluded.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said: “Desperate, frightened and traumatised children arriving in the UK on boats should be met by the best our country has to offer. With the Children Act 1989, we have gold standard legislation which should be guaranteeing these highly vulnerable children care and protection from local authorities. Yet the Education Secretary has authorised the Home Office to put them into hotels with minimal adult supervision instead. This once again exposes a care system which is being starved of funding, and Ministers tolerating the intolerable when it comes to children who rely on the state to nurture and protect them.”

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