Unaccompanied child asylum seekers taking up half of council placements

Wednesday September 20th 2023

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Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

A council social work chief has revealed nearly half of its residential places for children are being taken up by young unaccompanied asylum seekers.

Joan Tranent, Midlothian Council’s head of child services, said changes to rules in Kent, where asylum seekers who cross the Channel have been placed in hotels, mean local authorities are being asked to take on more youngsters.

And she revealed Midlothian had taken a unique approach to some of the young people who they believe are older than they say by placing them in supported housing instead of full time care.

Ms Tranent told a meeting of Midlothian Council’s performance, review and scrutiny committee: “One of the biggest issues is unaccompanied asylum seeking children.”

Speaking about the impact of taking on the youngsters she said: “I have just come in this morning to a third request in six weeks to take another young person.

“If we take that young person and one other that means half our residential placements are taken up by unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

“Kent has had a ruling it is not allowed to place anyone under 16 in a hotel and the impact of that is we are all being mandated to take children and young people – at a pace we have never seen before.”

Councillor Peter Smaill asked Ms Tranent to describe the impact of the arriving youngsters after telling the meeting, which was held on Tuesday, the Scottish Government did not fund those who arrive after crossing the Channel as it was considered an “English problem”.

She told him UK Government funding supported young people who were being homed in Midlothian but revealed the council’s unique approach to those claiming to be under 16, meant it was often reduced.

She revealed: “Ages are disputed every single day in relation to the young people that present. If they say they are under 16 then obviously we have a duty of care and must accommodate them and what we are starting to do, because we suspect the vast majority are over 16, is move them into supported accommodation once we have done an assessment.

“No local authorities agree with that approach. I have spoken to the Care Inspectorate who say as long as our assessment is robust they will accept that and so we are still supporting them but as they move into accommodation that is not residential or foster care the funding then decreases.”

The committee was told the service was looking into collaborating with neighbouring local authority East Lothian to find ways to meet the increased demand for spaces for the youngsters.

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