Child asylum seeker specialist council plan remains stalled

 Still no movement on specialist authorities for unaccompanied minors

Progress has stalled on key reforms to services for child asylum seekers, Community Care has learned.

As part of the reforms published a year ago, the government pledged to create up to 40 “specialist” authorities to take exclusive responsibility for unaccompanied minors and to relieve pressure on the South East. The first wave was due to start in autumn last year but no agreement with councils has been reached.

Last year the UK Border Agency held talks with Solihull, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and Leeds. But last week, the councils said nothing had been decided. The news follows protracted wrangles between authorities and the government over unmet costs for child asylum seekers’ services.

Solihull chief executive Mark Rogers said: “The UKBA has not made progress with the reform programme and there is little in the way of discussions to participate in.”

The UKBA confirmed that it was not yet able to disclose where the specialist authorities would be. “The numbers each authority can support, plus the financial cost, are complex matters and we are giving thought to how we can assist these local authorities in doing the necessary work to provide this information,” a spokesperson said.

No x-ray decision

The UKBA also confirmed it had still not come to a decision on other key proposals to use x-rays to determine the ages of child asylum seekers and the creation of specialist age assessment centres. It acknowledged there was “considerable opposition” to the use of x-rays.

While the reforms last year pledged guidance on age assessment procedures, the UKBA said this had not been published although a working group was due to set out its findings soon.

Other guidance promised under the reforms on care planning and councils’ duties towards child asylum seekers when they turn 18 has also yet to be published.

Children’s Society disappointment

Lisa Nandy, policy adviser at the Children’s Society said the delays were disappointing. “The reform programme has been in planning stage since October 2006 and this is creating uncertainty for professionals and children,” she said.

“It remains of serious concern that responsibility for refugee children still lies entirely outside the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The government cannot claim to be fully committed to children’s welfare until these children are given equal priority within government.”

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