Migrant Looked After Children: Scrutiny’s roleReading Time: 3 minutes
As you will have read in my last blog, being a corporate parent is a really important role that all councillors have – ensuring that children in their care are looked after and achieve. With the Government’s recent announcement to support a further 3,000 ‘at risk’ child refugees, Tom Redfearn at the Children’s Society explores this very issue and the role of scrutiny in our guest blog below.
Interested in knowing more about how to be a better Corporate Parent, CfPS is running a Masterclass to provide participants with the skills to become effective corporate parent and how councillors can champion outcomes for looked-after children – find out more here
Migrant Looked After Children: Scrutiny’s role
As we approach the local elections, it’s worth remembering that the role of a local councillor is not just to represent their local area; they also fulfil the role of ‘corporate parent’ to all Looked After Children (LAC) in the council’s care. This involves ensuring children’s needs are being met and championing the needs of LAC or care leavers in their area.
The latest figures from the Department for Education shows there were 2,630 unaccompanied migrant children in care across England in 2015. When these children arrive in the UK they have no parent or guardian who can care for them, and so become the responsibility of their local authority. However, while existing support systems across local authorities are predominantly focussed on addressing the immediate safety and stability of unaccompanied migrant children, consideration of their long-term needs is often forgotten about until the young person begins their transition into adulthood.
Many unaccompanied children get only a temporary form of immigration status when they first claim asylum which runs out at age 17 ½ years old. This means their immigration status is often unresolved once they hit adulthood. A young person’s entitlements after 18 years old will depend on their immigration status, including access to leaving care packages, housing, mainstream benefits and education. This means after they turn 18 they are caught between immigration regulations designed to control immigration, and legislation to support care-leavers. Research we’ve undertaken at The Children’s Society highlights how this policy is leaving former unaccompanied children in an extremely precarious position, profoundly impacting their ability to properly consider options for their future, making the establishment of a long-term, permanent or so-called ‘durable’ solution hugely challenging. Without a durable solution many young people face being left destitute or homeless when they leave care.
The Immigration Bill currently being debated in parliament is set to make the situation even more restrictive for care leavers subject to immigration control. Provisions in the Bill entirely remove the leaving care obligations of local authorities to former unaccompanied children in some cases. Many of these young people will have been in the UK since they were very young, and have no lasting connections to their country of origin.
Overview and Scrutiny Committees and Corporate Parenting Committees are the ideal forums to examine whether your local authority is following best practice and best supporting unaccompanied children in its care. I’ve outlined some questions below that you may wish to discuss with your Director of Children’s Services or Lead Member for Children, or indeed hold a scrutiny evidence session on.
- Does your local council have a policy of supporting young people to regularise their immigration status before they leave care, and is it part of their pathway plan?
- Does the council have a policy on provision of legal advice and representation for LAC with immigration claims?
- How many unaccompanied children in the care of the local authority currently have only temporary leave in the UK (sometimes known as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) leave)?
- To what extent are unaccompanied children involved in the decision-making around their long-term situation?
- Do let me know how you get on.
If you need any help in examining the level of support for this vulnerable group of children in your area, get in touch.
Tom Redfearn is the Senior Public Affairs Officer at The Children’s Society.