Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will be placed with specialist local authorities outside of London and the South East from the autumn, under key reforms published today.
The first wave of authorities will offer this provision following negotiations in the spring, the Border and Immigration Agency said.
Councils have raised concerns over funding for the scheme, but it was not clear from today’s plan whether any new money had been earmarked.
Long-term grant agreements
The BIA said long-term grant agreements would be negotiated – possibly for between three and five years – to give the authorities “greater clarity” about future numbers and funding.
The existing funding system, based on annual grant agreements supplemented in some cases by “special circumstances” payments, would be phased out, the BIA’s reform paper said. “We will discuss, during the negotiations, the arrangements for procuring the necessary services, but will want to agree on a detailed service specification,” it added.
Regional centres for assessing the age of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will also be created, but the government has backed down on proposals to use x-rays to determine age due to a “lack of consensus.”
The reforms today also indicated a harder line on returning children whose asylum application had failed.
The BIA said it would look at the “widespread practice” of granting discretionary leave to enter or remain following refusal of asylum or humanitarian protection. It would expect children to return to their country of origin “at the earliest opportunity.”
Responsibility for funding in England for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children with an entitlement to leaving care support once they reach the age of 18 will also shift from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to the BIA. The BIA said it expected to issue details of the new financial arrangements for 2008-2009 later this year.
The BIA also published a draft code of practice on safeguarding children for consultation today.
The Border and Immigration Agency published its consultation paper on the reforms, Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, in March last year.