A small number of councils in England could take over the care of all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under a government review that campaigners fear is not child-centred and is driven by cost-cutting.
The review, which is being led by the National Asylum Support Service, is looking to ease the burden on councils in London and the South East, which care for a disproportionate number of unaccompanied minors – nearly 2,500 of the 2,900 looked after as of March 2005.
This is because most unaccompanied minors enter the country through entry points in the South East, such as Heathrow Airport.
Councils in the North of England looked after just 170 unaccompanied minors, while only 280 were cared for by councils in the Midlands.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The [government] team has been considering the viability of entering into partnership arrangements with selected authorities outside the South East so they could expand their own service to take responsibility for more unaccompanied children.”
But campaigners are concerned that the review is being led by Nass, which is responsible for funding councils to look after unaccompanied minors rather than care for children itself.
Lisa Nandy, chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, which includes charities such as The Children’s Society and Barnardo’s, said: “Some of the documents coming out of the review programme have been talking about cutting costs and that’s worrying.
“There isn’t any space to cut costs. The amount of money local authorities get [now] isn’t enough.”
Rona Blackwood, assistant programme director for refugees at Save the Children, echoed Nandy’s concerns and said Nass’s leadership made her “fearful” that the review was not child-centred.
Some campaigners are also concerned that the review could lead to the creation of “super children’s homes” to house the group.
But a Home Office spokesperson said Commission for Social Care Inspection regulations prevented such homes being created.
She said Nass was working closely with local authorities and the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that child welfare issues were considered, and said the desire to cut costs was just one of a number of drivers behind the review.
The government has held a series of seminars about the reforms and will publish a consultation document by the end of the year.