The amount of money spent by councils on providing vital care and support for unaccompanied children seeking asylum has almost doubled in four years, latest figures show.
The Local Government Association says councils are eager to build on their strong track record of supporting those resettling in new communities, including lone children seeking asylum.
However unprecedented funding pressures and growing demand for help are challenging their ambitions to provide the best support possible.
It is calling on the Government to complete its long-awaited review of the cost to councils of supporting unaccompanied children, and for this to provide the long-term funding arrangements that give councils the resources required to offer the care and support that children in their care, and those leaving that care, deserve.
This comes as latest figures show that the number of asylum-seeking children and young people in care in England under 18 rose from 2,760 in 2014/15 to 4,480 in 2017/18.
Councils spent more than £152 million on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in 2017/18 – an increase of 95 per cent on the £77 million spent in 2014/15.
Meanwhile councils are also seeing an increase of more than 50 per cent in two years in unaccompanied children leaving care when they turn 18, but remaining the responsibility of the local authority.
There were 4,660 unaccompanied children leaving care in 2016, which went up to 7,130 in 2018.
These rising costs and challenges are contributing to the soaring demand pressures on councils’ children’s services, which face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025 just to continue operating at current levels. The LGA, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the Government needs to plug this shortfall in this year’s Spending Review.
The LGA says councils are continuing to work hard to support the range of programmes for refugees and asylum seekers, including working with government to ensure better oversight and funding of the new contracts for adults and families seeking asylum. Greater alignment and funding of all of these is required so the ongoing needs of all new arrivals can be met without creating unsustainable pressure on local services.
Children and councils also need quick and accurate decisions on asylum claims given the importance of children knowing their future, and for there to be more work on supporting children and those that care for them if their future ultimately may not be in the UK.
In addition, councils say an effective age assessment process needs to be implemented from the outset to better safeguard children.
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA’s Asylum, Migration and Refugee Task Group, said:
“Councils have a strong track record supporting those resettling in the UK and are committed to providing the best support possible. However given the significant financial pressures councils are under as they set local budgets and council tax in the coming weeks, achieving the level of support new arrivals are legally entitled to is becoming more and more challenging.
“Councils want to make sure every child in their care gets the very best support which keeps them safe from harm, and enables them to go on and live fulfilling, happy and healthy lives.
“This is why the Government needs to announce the findings of its long overdue review into the funding of support provided by councils for unaccompanied children.
“It is vital this includes a pledge to properly fund the joint commitment to support unaccompanied children, young people and families starting a new life in the UK. We also need to see the Government tackle the wider funding shortfall facing children’s services in the forthcoming Spending Review.”