Care placements “just do not exist” to take in asylum-seeking children currently placed in hotels, children’s services directors have warned.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) issued the message after the government disclosed that 200 unaccompanied children remained missing after being placed in hotels after arriving in the UK.
This prompted widespread concerns from parliamentarians and campaigners about the risks to these children, particularly in relation to trafficking.
Call for immediate end to use of hotels
Over 100 charities signed a letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak urging an immediate end to hotel placements, an end date beyond which they would not be revived and an independent inquiry into the practice.
Home Office ministers have said that, while they were committed to ending the use of hotels, they could not commit to a date to ending the practice because of the need to find local authority placements.
To incentivise councils, the Home Office has increased – from £6,000 over three months to £15,000 up front – an additional payment given to authorities that take in children placed in hotels. This is available until the end of 28 February.
However, ADCS president Steve Crocker said the widespread lack of care placements meant the use of hotels could not come to an end immediately.
Placements ‘just do not exist’
“ADCS recognises the need to transfer young people out of hotels as soon as possible into appropriate placements,” he said.
“We welcomed the increase in payments to provide new placements but this cannot and will not happen overnight, the placements we need just do not exist.”
In an echo of previous comments by the ADCS about provider practices in relation to the cost of children’s placements, he added: “Councils need the support of government to address the placement sufficiency challenges we all face as well as the increasing costs of placements and profiteering from the care of vulnerable children.”
Children in legal grey area
One of the concerns raised about hotel placements is the fact that the children concerned are not treated as looked after, meaning they have no allocated social worker, care plan or independent reviewing officer – though social workers are placed in hotels to support them.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick admitted in Parliament this week that their legal status was a grey area.
This issue was raised by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Rachel de Souza, in a letter to home secretary Suella Braverman this week.
“In all other circumstances these children would have protection through the legal framework and the professional involvement that comes with being a looked after child,” she wrote. “I am concerned that without this support they are more vulnerable to abuse and harm. The numbers of missing children are an example of this.”
Commissioner’s questions for government
The commissioner posed Braverman a series of questions about what had happened to children placed in hotels:
- How many safeguarding referrals for children in hotels have been made?
- How many of those safeguarding referrals have led to children in hotels being placed on child in need or child protection plans?
- How many serious child safeguarding incident notifications have been made to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel?
- Whether every hotel has a designated safeguarding lead?
- How many referrals have been made to the relevant local authority designated officer (LADO) about professionals working within the hotels?
- How many children have been reported missing to the police since Braverman’s response to a letter from de Souza on the issue in November?
- How many independent interviews have been conducted following children returning to the hotels after being missing for a period?
She called for all unaccompanied children to be offered a named advocate and for the Home Office and Department for Education to update statutory guidance on missing children to acknowledge the particular risks they face.
Missing children guidance
The guidance currently states: “Some [unaccompanied children] may have been trafficked into the UK and may remain under the influence of their traffickers even while they are looked after.
“Trafficked children are at high risk of going missing, with most going missing within one week of
becoming looked after and many within 48 hours. Unaccompanied migrant or asylum seeking children who go missing immediately after becoming looked after should be treated as potential victims of trafficking.”
It then states that councils should carry out an assessment, analysing how the child came to the UK and their ongoing vulnerability to traffickers, in tandem with the National Crime Agency and immigration staff. Children who are suspected victims of trafficking should also be referred to the National Referral Mechanism to determine whether this is the case.
There is no provision in the statutory guidance for circumstances under which an unaccompanied child is not the responsibility of a local authority.
‘Robust safeguarding procedures in place’
In response to the wider issue, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of children and minors in our care is an absolute priority. Robust safeguarding procedures are in place to ensure all children and minors are safe and supported as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.
“Any child or minor going missing is extremely serious, and we work around the clock with the police and local authorities to urgently locate them and ensure they are safe.
“We are determined to stop the use of hotels for all minors. To achieve this goal, we are providing local authorities with £15,000 for every unaccompanied child they take into their care.”