Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) are children and young people who are seeking asylum in the UK but who have been separated from their parents or carers. While their claim is processed, they are cared for by a local authority.
London boroughs are making a huge contribution in taking care of UASC. According to official statistics, as of 31 March 2018 London boroughs were looking after 1,500 UASC – a third of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in England.
Arrival in the UK
UASC are arriving in the UK by different means:
- Spontaneous Arrivals – most UASC arrive in the UK by their own means and are encountered at their port of entry, at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, or are otherwise encountered by police/social services. The local authority in which the child first presents is normally responsible for their care. This has put disproportionate pressure on some local authorities such as Kent and Hillingdon who have significant ports of entry, and Croydon where the Asylum Intake Unit is based.
- Dubs amendment – resettlement of UASC already in France, Greece or Italy. The scheme prioritises children aged 12 and under, at high risk of sexual exploitation, and children of Sudanese or Syrian nationality. Transfer to the UK must be determined to be in the best interest of the child.
- Dublin III Regulation – children/close family/dependents reuniting to have their asylum claim dealt with together. The local authority is responsible for undertaking family assessments to ensure the placement is suitable. Government guidance is currently ambiguous, but we are expecting a revision to make clear that if a parent or sibling is the connection in question, and if they are not able or willing to take care of the child, then the local authority will have a duty to take them into care.
Refugee children (who do not have to go through the asylum process) are also arriving into the UK from the Middle East and North Africa Region under the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme (VCRS).
Accommodating UASCs in the UK – the Pan London Rota and the National Transfer Scheme (NTS)
The Pan London Rota is an agreement by Directors of Children Services to support equal distribution of UASC 16/17 years old in London. The Rota is a voluntary arrangement and all London local authorities have positively contributed to receiving rota referrals, with exception of those recognised as significant entry points in London or over the NTS threshold. The Pan London Rota is managed by Croydon Council’s Permanence 1 Team. Emergency Accommodation is managed by LASC. LASC commission and monitor the accommodation and arrange safe transfer and access to emergency medical care if required. They additionally resolve any difficulties and liaise with participating Local authorities as required.
Building on the success of the Pan London Rota model, and in response to growing pressures in London and Kent, the Government introduced the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) on 1st July 2016. The scheme is designed to ensure an even distribution of UASC across LAs nationally. Under the NTS, where an unaccompanied child first presents in a Local Authority which already has over 0.07% UASC to child population, the Local Authority is able to arrange for the transfer of the child. Unlike the Pan London Rota, a child need not be 16/17 years of age.
A flowchart of the processes involved in a transfer under the NTS can be found here. Outside London, it is regional SMPs who coordinate the movement of UASC and identify appropriate placement provision within their region.
Despite early promise, unfortunately the NTS has not yet provided the national solution to the national challenge of caring for UASC. In recent months, very few children have transferred from London boroughs to other regions through the NTS. A significant proportion of London boroughs are therefore over the 0.07% threshold.
There is also currently a substantial shortfall between the funding local government receives and the actual cost of caring for UASC. London Councils’ research found that, in 2016/17, 19 London boroughs reported a cumulative funding pressure of £11 million as a result of having to deliver unfunded responsibilities for UASC.
The NTS, or a successor scheme, must be made fit for purpose and provide a collective solution to the challenges local authorities face. Future funding of local authorities needs to accurately reflect the costs they incur from caring for these vulnerable children and young people.