Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Many unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK will have travelled for miles to escape horrific incidents in their home lands. But despite their vulnerability campaigners argue that the group are not treated as well as other children by the government and a two tier system exists.


The text below outlines key legislation, guidance and court cases which have shaped services for this group.



Reforms to services for unaccompanied asylum seeking children


In March 2007 the government published a consultation document outlining fundamental changes to the support system for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The main proposals were:


For 50-60 local authorities to take over the care of all unaccompanied asylum seeking children to relieve pressure on London and the South East, which currently care for most of them.


That some unaccompanied asylum seeking children would be ready to leave foster care at 16 and move into more independent living arrangements. (See tension with Care Matters section below).


To dramatically reduce the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children who will be eligible for leaving care funding by speeding up removals in recognition of the fact that many councils are currently concerned about leaving care costs for the group.


To carry out dental x-rays to try to assess children’s ages


Planning better outcomes and support for unaccompanied asylum seeking children


Community Care Conferences

Improving educational outcomes for looked-after children – Working towards a national model

How the plans compare with the current system


At present about 5 per cent of unaccompanied minors have their asylum claims upheld per year and 30 per cent have their claims turned down at an early stage. The rest are granted a period of temporary leave.


Most reach 18 without a final decision on their claim and therefore receive leaving care support until the decision is made and any appeals they make against it have concluded. Those whose claims are turned down and who have exhausted their appeal rights before they are 18 are granted temporary leave until they reach this age.


At this point councils are required to carry out an assessment on the young people to determine if denying them support would be in breach of their human rights on the grounds that it would make them destitute. Croydon Council children’s services director Steve Liddicott (pictured) says most councils choose to support such children despite not being reimbursed for doing so.


The government says that it recognises that councils’ obligations to this group are unclear and is set to publish new guidance on the issue.


Councils’ funding for leaving care costs comes out of the Department for Education and Skills’ leaving care grant. This is cash-limited, meaning that there is a ceiling on the highest rate available, and many argue it does not cover costs. 

How this could change under the new system?


The government wants to deal with asylum claims more quickly. It suggests granting children aged over 16 no or shorter periods of temporary leave and removing them once their appeal rights have been exhausted, even if under-18.


Another option put forward would ensure temporary leave expires when the young person reaches 17 and a half so any applications to extend temporary leave would finish before they reach 18 and gain leaving care support.


The government also proposes taking the decision of whether to support former unaccompanied minors aged over 18 whose claims have failed and who have exhausted their appeal rights away from councils and giving it to the Home Office.


This would lead to them being provided with board and lodgings, known as Section 4 support, rather than leaving care support, which is much more generous.


How the reforms conflict with Care Matters


Many campaigners have argued that the proposals on unaccompanied asylum seeking children are at odds with the government’s proposals on looked after children put forward in the Care Matters green paper.


Rather than being driven by the need to put the child first embodied by Care Matters campaigners argue that instead the unaccompanied minors reforms are driven by removal targets and a desire to cut costs.


Lisa Nandy, chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, which includes the Children’s Society and Save the Children, said that the most starkest example of this is the government’s proposal for unaccompanied asylum seeking children to leave foster care aged 16 and more into more independent living arrangements. This is compared to Care Matters which proposes giving looked-after children a veto on leaving care before they turn 18 and allowing them to continue living with foster carers up until 21.


Care Matters: Time for Change White Paper



Where are we now with the reforms?


It has been alleged to Community Care that the government is finding it difficult to get councils to come forward to be one of the 50-60 specialist local authorities for unaccompanied minors due to fears about the potential leaving care costs.


The consultation on the reforms closed in June and the government is currently preparing its response.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child


The government has an exemption to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in regards to refugee and asylum seeking children. Campaigners have long called for this to be removed but so far it remains.



Hillingdon judgement


In August 2003 the High Court ruled that unaccompanied asylum seeking children came under the same legislation as children leaving care, ruling that they should continue to receive support up until the age of 21 or 24 in certain circumstances. The ruling came in case involving a group of uascs and Hillingdon Council and is now commonly referred to as the Hillingdon judgement.


Hillingdon’s legal challenge to UASC funding levels from the government


In June 2006 Hillingdon Council, which looks after around 900 unaccompanied asylum seeking children due to its proximity to Heathrow, was granted permission by the High Court for a judicial review of the government’s alleged under-funding of services for uascs.


The council claimed that the lack of government funding left it £5.3 million out of pocket for the 2004-5 and 2005-6 financial years. It said that the government had guaranteed it the funding but that a policy change had left a hole in its budget.


In March the council lost the case and said it would have to raise council tax bills by 1 per cent to make up the shortfall.


Council alleged to be depriving unaccompanied asylum seeking children of support


At the beginning of 2007 the children’s commissioner Al Aynsley-Green (pictured right) accused Hillingdon Council of unlawfully depriving uascs of support in order to save money.


Green alleged that the London council was prematurely moving all uascs from the looked after system to the leaving care system where they have fewer rights. He said that the council did not apply the same policy to other looked after children, who were allowed to remain in the looked after system up to the age of 18, making it highly discriminatory.


His office alleged that Hillingdon were removing all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children over 16 from the looked after system after 13 weeks, the minimum period young people must spend in care to qualify for leaving care services, and that unaccompanied minors who entered care at a younger age were transferred to the leaving care system as soon as they turned 16.


The commissioner’s policy advisor on asylum Adrian Matthews said that the council was acting unlawfully by applying its policy to all unaccompanied asylum seeking children as this meant it was not carrying out assessments on the basis of each child’s needs, as required by the Children Act 1989.


Hillingdon has denied the commissioner’s claims and the pair are currently involved in meetings to discuss the allegations.


Problems with age assessments


Research published in May 2007 controversially alleged that managers are pressurising social workers to assess unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as older than they are to save money. The study, commissioned by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, alleged that the mangers were pressuring or instructing social workers to incorrectly assess children as over 18 or 16. Councils have a duty to provide services to asylum-seeking children under the age of 18 but those assessed as being over 16 receive less support. Asylum seekers assessed as 18 or over on their arrival in the UK are the responsibility of the National Asylum Support Service.


The study also said that there was a conflict of interest in the current system with social workers from councils who would later have to support the child carrying out the assessment. It recommended the creation of regional age assessment centres, funded independently and staffed by multi-agency teams. Heaven Crawley (pictured right), author of the study, said that while these should contain social workers they should not be from the council that would later go on to support the child.


Under the government’s proposed reforms to services for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, see above, the government wants to bring in a greater use of dental x-rays to help determine age. But speaking in an interview with Community Care in June 2007 Crawley said that there was no evidence x-rays can accurately assess age and was critical of the government’s plans.

All our articles on unaccompanied asylum seeking children

Articles on unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Community Care


New safeguarding duty on the immigration service


In July 2007 the government announced a new duty to keep asylum seeking children safe was set to be placed on the immigration service.


The duty, set to be contained in an amendment to the UK Borders Bill, will require the Border and Immigration Agency to have regard to a new statutory code of practice when dealing with children.


Campaigners welcomed the new duty but said it is not as far reaching as the Children Act 2004 duty placed on councils, the NHS and other agencies to safeguard and promote the welfare of welfare of children.


Lisa Nandy, chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium which includes the Children’s Society and Save the Children UK, said that the new legislation, would not require the immigration service to promote children’s welfare as well as safeguarding them, unlike the Children Act duty.



Search for vacancies in services for unaccompanied asylum seeking children.


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