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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Quarter of local authorities not accepting unaccompanied children from Jungle camp

Written by The Press Association

One in four local authorities - including Theresa May's local council - has not accepted unaccompanied refugee children from the Calais Jungle.

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, which contains the Prime Minister's constituency, is one of at least 38 councils in England which have so far not taken part in the Government's voluntary National Transfer Scheme for minors.

The initiative was introduced to ease pressure on the "gateway authorities", such as Dover, where many of the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will arrive.

A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council said it was not accepting any children under the new scheme.

"The Royal Borough is currently taking in four children under the Syrian resettlement programme and has committed to house another eight Syrian refugee families," the spokesman said.

"We are not able to take further people at this point."

The scheme was launched in July to "encourage all local authorities to volunteer to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children so there is a more even distribution of caring responsibilities across the country".

A report by Leicestershire County Council, published earlier in October, states that three of the nine local authority areas are yet to sign up to the scheme.

Based on the varying numbers of councils within each local authority area, this means that as many as 76 - and at least 38 - of the country's 152 councils are not part of the National Transfer Scheme.

Leicestershire County Council "disengaged" from the voluntary scheme because of concerns that it would cost the council up to £2.05 million from its own resources, despite receiving funding from the Home Office.

A spokesman for Leicestershire County Council said: "The county council is currently caring for around 54 unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people who have arrived in the county, including seven under the national scheme.

"We have set up a specialist social work team to look after asylum-seeking young people and started a campaign to recruit specialist foster carers.

"Reluctantly, the council has decided to pause its involvement in the national scheme until the Government can resolve the serious funding and practical issues involved. We calculate that the voluntary scheme would cost us £2 million per year, as full costs are not covered currently."

Councillor David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Asylum, Refugee and Migration Task Group, said that councils have a "strong track record" of supporting unaccompanied children, adding: "Those arriving from the Calais camp will require care and support packages directly from councils and their partners.

"For those children relocated with existing family living in the UK, councils will still want to be assured that arrangements put in place can meet the child's needs and that they are safe and well.

"Many will have also experienced horrendous conditions within and since fleeing their country of origin, so councils will want to ensure they are able to settle into communities as quickly and easily as possible, with ongoing support made available when they need it.

"Already, councils have offered to provide expert children's social workers to carry out assessments to help ensure the process is managed effectively and at speed.

"They will also play a crucial role in co-ordinating the support of charities and local volunteers.

"Councils also require long-term funding arrangements from Government so that the commitment to support those children starting a new life in the UK is properly funded."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.