Supporting asylum-seeking children

Councils have a proud history of welcoming new arrivals and supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to settle and thrive in their new homes.

This remains the case even as the number of children has risen significantly over recent years, and at a time when councils are under increasing strain.  

Councils have a responsibility to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking (UAS) children who are identified in their area, including providing accommodation and support for those aged under 18 and supporting those young people as care leavers after they turn 18. 

As arrivals disproportionately affect port authorities, the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) was established to move children to care placements around the country.  

However, rising numbers of UAS children and the ongoing pressures of supporting UAS care leavers is putting significant strain on councils’ ability to provide the best possible support. 

The number of UAS children in councils’ care rose by 29 per cent last year – up to 7,290 – while former UAS care leavers now account for more than a quarter of all care leavers aged 19-21.  

Home Office funding does not cover the true cost of supporting UAS children, and councils are particularly concerned that funding for care leavers is only 27 per cent of that for under-18s. 

Certainty that funding is sufficient to cover the costs of appropriate support to a young person is vital if councils are to feel able to offer homes to UAS children. 

This comes at a time when pressure on council services has been growing, with record numbers of children currently in care, and increased demand for social care services and housing support. 

An additional £500 million for adult and children’s social care was announced in the final local government finance settlement, published in February. 

However, the scale of pressure means most councils still had to make cuts to their 2024/25 budgets.   

Those funding pressures are being driven by the increasing costs of placements, with councils warning of an insufficiency of homes for all children in care. 

LGA research found that 91 per cent of councils had at least one placement costing more than £10,000 a week last year – up from just 23 per cent in 2018/19. The number of these placements had increased from 120 to more than 1,500 in the same period. 

The Chancellor did acknowledge the pressures on children’s services in his Spring Budget, announcing £45 million match funding for local authorities to build an additional 200 open children’s home placements and £120 million for maintenance of the existing secure children’s homes. 

Fixing the broken market for children’s social care placements will take time and ongoing investment, but this is a step in the right direction. 

Age assessment also remains a challenge, both from child protection and legal perspectives.

Challenges to UAS children’s age assessments can be lengthy and expensive for councils, drawing on significant financial and human resource. 

The new National Age Assessment Board will eventually carry out a significant proportion of assessments, though it is currently only working on a very small number of cases. 

We also need to see a joined-up approach across partners and government departments to the totality of the asylum and migration system to make sure all those seeking refuge in the UK can receive the right support.  

See our website for more information on councils’ support for refugees and asylum seekers.


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