Iraqi refugee children, Damascus, Syria

Croydon Council considers ability to take on more asylum-seeking children

Croydon Council is deciding whether it can continue to accept new arrivals of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, according to new documents.

In a briefing presented to the General Purpose and Audit Committee, the increasing numbers of asylum-seeking children arriving within the borough was said to place “substantial financial pressure” on the council. 

It was also claimed: “Croydon continues to carry additional costs due to the nature of the asylum intake unit in our borough.”

In October 2020, Croydon Council was forced to apologise for exceeding the children’s and adult’s social care budget by £39.2million, with an overspend of £8.7million on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. 

It comes amid a report produced by auditors Grant Thornton, which has called on the local authority to address the underlying causes of its “significant” overspends within children’s social care. 

The reduction in new arrivals, if given the go ahead, will become the latest component in a package of sweeping cuts, encompassing library closures and increases in council tax, that aim to fill the £67million hole in the authority’s budget. 

Between the 2017-18 and 2020-21 financial years, the cost for unaccompanied asylum seeking children, which are based on a per child, per night rate, exceeded Home Office funding by £25.5million. 

Currently, Croydon Council receives a flat rate of £143 per child per night until they reach 18-years-old, compared to £137.50 per child per night for 16-year-olds and £114 per night per child for 16-17-year-olds. 

In the last decade, the local authority has looked after more than 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. 

With an estimated 70 new arrivals each month, Croydon accounts for nearly 15% of the capital’s total intake

The national voluntary agreement, which forms part of the National Transfer scheme, limits the number of unaccompanied children that local authorities care for to 0.07% of its child population. 

Based on the current 0-17 population in Croydon, this would be around 66 children. However, in September 2020, 249 new arrivals were taken into Croydon’s care – almost four times the voluntary agreement. 

According to the authority’s schedule of proposals for savings and investment, this is largely as a result of the location of the Home Office’s Lunar House immigration centre which makes Croydon a “national point of entry for asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children”.

According to London Councils, most unaccompanied asylum-seeking children “arrive by their own means, encountered at their port of entry, at the Asylum Intake Unit in Croydon, or are otherwise encountered by police/social services”.

However, over the last year the number of new arrivals has decreased. 

Documents show that since March 2020, social workers in Croydon have supported 108 young people who are 16 and above.

During the same period, the local authority has accommodated 46 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children aged under-16.

The decline in the number of unaccompanied children is directly linked to COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, reducing the movements of people and freight, according to the council.

The local authority is currently in discussion with the Department for Education and Home Office requesting additional financial support to continue to accommodate unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. 

As part of negotiations, Croydon Council is requesting that new arrivals are transferred to local authorities who currently sit under the national voluntary agreement’s 0.07% threshold. 

Additionally it is asking that the asylum applications of children in its care are priorities to allow those who are granted leave to remain can access services such as Universal Credit. 

The council says that the outcomes of these actions will “inform decisions on whether Croydon can continue to accept newly arrived children into its care”. 

In January, the Refugee Council and seven other charities authored an open letter calling on the children’s minister, Vicky Ford, to provide every unaccompanied child with specialist care. 

The letter said: “Many local authorities are above the agreed threshold of 0.07% of their child population and some, as you will be aware, have declined to take these children into their care and demanded that the central government take control of placing them directly from the Home Office into the care of other local authorities.”

Evner Solomon, CEO of the Refugee Council, said: “The children’s minister is effectively a legal guardian for every child in state care, so the best interests of these highly vulnerable children must be her top priority. 

“We have been calling for a more effective National Transfer Scheme to ensure that all local authorities step up and support child refugees, and we will continue to call on the children’s minister to address this until it is fixed.”

Featured image credit: James Gordon, Flickr

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