Bath Voice News: council to end accommodating unaccompanied children who come to BANEs seeking asylum due to budget contraint

Bath and North East Somerset Council will stop looking after any more unaccompanied children who come to the UK seeking asylum writes Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis. (Photo from UNICEF.)
Children who arrive in the UK as asylum seekers without a parent or caregiver are placed into the care of local authorities, with 32 put into the care of Bath and North East Somerset Council in 2022-23.

But, amid budget pressures at the council, a top councillor has said the local authority will be “putting a hold on taking any more.”

Paul May, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said in a statement: “Bath and North East Somerset Council has worked diligently to meet the Home Office allocation for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. This has required the local authority to place many unaccompanied asylum seeking children out of area due to sufficiency challenges. This has added significant financial pressure to an already pressured Children’s Services budget. The local authority has written to the Home Office to request suspension of referrals though the remainder of the financial year.”

On November 13, he had told a meeting of the council’s children, adults, health, and wellbeing policy development and scrutiny panel: “There is a regional meeting of lead members and we have raised the issue there with them about unaccompanied asylum seeking children, because it appears as though across the South West the numbers that some authorities have got — like us — are high, relative to the 0.1% that they set the target. Others don’t appear to have taken their children.

“So at the moment we have just notified them that we are going to be putting a hold on taking any more.”
The council recently warned that it is facing a £6.5m overspend in the current financial year — with a major area where the council is overspending being children’s services, which is running £4.6m over budget.
Mr May added: “We should care for them, that is not the issue. But if their case is not dealt with by the home office by the time they get to 18, they then come into our requirements around 18-25s and there is no funding actually given for that so it is a real cost issue.”

Most of the 32 unaccompanied asylum seeker and refugee children who were put in the council’s care in the last year were between 15 and 18, as well as one 14-year-old and one 13-year-old. Not all unaccompanied children in the council’s care are placed within the area itself.
A report that went before the meeting by the independent reviewing service, which monitors the care provided to children, stated: “The majority of UASCs [unaccompanied child asylum seekers] are not placed locally or are already residing in larger cities across the country, often a placement they have been in before Bath and North East Somerset became the corporate parent.

“A number of children who have a placement within the local area say they would like to move to larger cities where they can maintain contact with friends they already know or be part of the community they feel they can fit within. Many UASCs speak little or no English, which makes integrating into a predominantly white English-speaking area difficult.”

But the report also warned: “When UASCs are placed out of county in large cities, the vulnerability to them increases, especially around modern slavery and further trafficking.”

Speaking at the meeting, Mr May said: “If that child lives in London, then we have to send social workers up to London or we employ a social worker in London. It’s a real issue because the cost is the government’s interpretation of the cost, it isn’t the real cost. Which is one of the reasons why we are overspending.”
He added: “The simple fact is, some local authorities are not taking their allocation, which is why we are now saying let’s just stand back and think about how we deal with this most effectively.”

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