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Local authorities’ safeguarding responsibilities

Local authorities in the UK have a range of duties relating to safeguarding the welfare of children in their areas, which apply equally to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children as to other children.

In June 2021, Kent County Council said it would no longer be able to accept statutory responsibility for children and young people arriving in the county to seek asylum in the UK. Following this, the Home Office decided to house those children in hotels on an interim basis while they waited for a permanent local authority placement via the National Transfer Scheme.

Concerns have been raised about the legal status of unaccompanied children accommodated in hotels, and that this means the children are denied access to support provided to looked after children.

Safeguarding concerns

Several stakeholders have also raised concerns about the safeguarding of unaccompanied children in Home Office provided accommodation.

A particular concern relates to the number of unaccompanied children who have gone missing from Home Office hotels. In January 2023, the Government confirmed that there have been “440 missing occurrences and 200 children remain missing” since July 2021.

The Illegal Migration Bill

The Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, would provide a legal basis for the Home Office to provide accommodation for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

The Government has emphasised the Bill does not change local authorities’ responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 and that it does not entail the Home Office taking on corporate parent responsibilities for unaccompanied children.

Several stakeholders have raised concerns about the Bill. The Children’s Commissioner for England, for example, has suggested the Bill would likely exacerbate existing issues.

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