Supporting Vulnerable UASC
Whether you’re in favour of leaving or remaining in the EU, you can’t have missed the importance that immigration has played in the national debate. Talk of ‘Brexit’ and its implications for local authorities has certainly made for an eventful two months since I started my role as Vice President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services in April. It is a huge privilege to occupy the role. It will give me the opportunity to work with government and partners in the wider system and join forces with passionate and committed people across the sector during what is an exciting, yet challenging time within children’s services.
I’ve been interested to see that as so much of the immigration debate has focused on Europe, the crisis in Syria and the Middle East has taken more of a back seat.
It seems timely, therefore, to use my first blog as Vice President to reflect on the government’s new Immigration Act – particularly around the impact on the support that local authorities provide to children, young people and their families and the real implications that this will have on already stretched local government budgets.
We’ve seen an unprecedented number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe. In 2015, 3,043 separated children claimed asylum in the UK, seeking safety from countries where the state has caused them harm or has been unable to protect them. It is important that we all fulfil our obligations and safeguard these young people. Kent County Council has responded extremely well to the pressures placed upon them; however they, and other local authorities are still overwhelmed with demand.
We are all facing budget pressures like never before. Within my own council, we have experienced a £15.4million cut in our government grant for 2016/17 and over the last five years, inflationary, demographic and other budget pressures have meant that the council has had to find an extra £85million.
The hidden costs in supporting this cohort include education/college, social work time and costs to other partner organisations like health and translation services – there is also an increase in demand for these services. In addition to this there are significant costs associated with finding suitable placements to meet the different needs of young people arriving in the UK. According to analysis of Home Office data nearly all of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under 16 are fostered. However the lack of internal fostering placements may mean that these children have to be placed with Independent Fostering Agencies which will incur significantly higher costs than grant agreements would cover - placing funding under even further pressure.
The three streams to the national picture and the changes around the Immigration Act – the dispersal of children already in the UK, the Children at Risk Scheme and the Lord Dubs amendment – are key to accelerating support to this vulnerable group. The ADCS has worked closely with local government in developing the regional model for transfer which should assist in facilitating a joined-up approach to the different migratory pressures. The new grant agreements will also go some way to responding to this, however it is vital that we work in partnership with each other to learn from best practice, review cost effective ways of accommodating these young people and co-ordinate our response locally and regionally.
There will be much debate around this, but what is key is that these are vulnerable children and young people and we need to consider their best interests whilst working towards a sustainable national approach.
I look forward to hearing contributions from the Home Office and Department for Education at our upcoming ADCS Annual Conference in a workshop on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We will also hear from Croydon Council about the arrangements they have developed to support the growing number of young asylum seekers in their authority. Sharing of best practice will be key to getting it right for children and young people.
As for Europe and the inevitable exit ... a campaign characterised by tired, lack-lustre leadership; an absence of strategy and cohesion in defence; reliance on super-rich famous names rather than giving the opportunity to the obvious talent and desire of a heady combination of youth and new arrivals. I am of course talking about the England football team with their unerring ability to underperform and disappoint us optimistic fans. I hope that by the end of June this is the only untimely exit from Europe we are mourning ...
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