The Refugee Council, together with The Children’s Society, Action for Children, National Children’s Bureau, Coram Children’s Legal Centre, Detention Action, Article 39 and Ecpat UK have written an open letter to Children’s Minister Vicky Ford calling for every unaccompanied child to receive the specialist care they need.
While every local authority has a duty to support unaccompanied children claiming asylum in the UK, at or above the agreed threshold of 0.07% of their child population, some local authorities have declined to take enough (or any) children into their care. This can lead to highly vulnerable children being held at immigration facilities when they should be placed immediately in local authority care.
The Government has acknowledged that the National Transfer scheme needs reform. This issue cannot wait to be considered in the recently announced care review – action is needed now. Whilst funding for local authorities caring for this cohort of children has been increased in recent years, concerns remain that inadequate funding for care leavers, and difficulties accessing specialist services such as legal advice, has contributed towards the reluctance of some local authorities to engage more readily in the scheme.
Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said:
“The National Transfer Scheme is clearly failing. The Government knows it is failing, yet two years after beginning a review of the scheme not a single reform has been implemented.
These are some of the most vulnerable children in our society, who have experienced severe trauma escaping from war-torn countries, leaving their families behind to make dangerous journeys to the UK. Councils are failing in their duty to act as a responsible parent to provide care for these children, and central Government is not stepping in to fix this. This cannot go on – we need decisive action to ensure that no child who comes to the UK seeking safety is neglected by the state.”
Open letter to Children’s Minister Vicky Ford:
I write on behalf of a number of non-governmental organisations providing support and advice to unaccompanied children who have applied for asylum in England. We have grave concerns about the care of an increasing number of these very vulnerable children because at present government and local authorities are failing to fulfil their duty as the responsible parent who looks after them.
Many of us have been engaged with your Department and the Home Office since the early stages of design of the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) under section 69 of the Immigration Act 2016. We have discussed the problems and delays of the scheme with officials including through the National Asylum Stakeholder Forum’s sub-group on children. Officials in your department have acknowledged the need for reform as numbers of transfers began to fall and local authorities identified difficulties with the current system.
We supported the review of the NTS process when it was first mentioned in 2019. Many of us responded to the proposals in August 2020 to move the NTS to a ‘rota’ format, with the aim of reducing delays and making transfer more straightforward, in part by removing barriers to transfer and maintaining the overall principle of ensuring that the best interests of children remain a primary consideration.
We are therefore greatly concerned that at the time of writing no reform has yet been implemented. Many local authorities are above the agreed threshold of 0.07% of their child population and some, as you will be aware, have declined to take these children into their care and demanded that central government take control of placing them directly from the Home Office into the care of other local authorities. We believe that this unprecedented step demands an urgent solution and ask that you intervene to ensure that reforms are brought in with no further delay.
The statutory guidance issued by your Department highlights the vulnerability of these children and reminds local authorities of their duty to protect and support them. The continued delays on implementing reforms risks this duty not being fulfilled. We urge you to act in the best interests of these children who rely on the state to ensure they are safe and cared for.
Chief Executive Refugee Council
And on behalf of:
The Children’s Society
Azmina Siddique Policy & Research Manager – Child Poverty and Inequality
Action for Children
Director of Policy & Campaigns
National Children’s Bureau
Coram Children’s Legal Centre
Senior Legal and Policy Officer
Head of Policy and Advocacy
Chief Executive Officer