The government has issued a new safeguarding strategy which aims to boost support for lone child migrants. It is also issued alongside statutory guidance for local authorities about the care of unaccompanied children and child victims of modern slavery. The government report claims that last year there were 3000 unaccompanied children who claimed asylum in the UK.
As of 31st March 2017, 6% (4,560) of Children Looked After were asylum seeking children. The new strategy claims it will improve the care of unaccompanied children by providing specialist training for thousands of foster carers and support workers, improving their skills and confidence in caring for them.
Below is a brief outline and GMB comment on some of the provisions and our advice.
Safeguarding Strategy: Unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children (November 2017)
The promise of training will be backed by new funding of £200,000 between 2017-19. Plus £60,000 investment in revising existing guidance, information and resources. Places on training courses will be allocated to each local authority and based on numbers under the National Transfer Scheme. It is to be of high quality and the purpose is to give foster carers the skills and confidence to look after these children.
Worryingly, however, the strategy reports that there is a greater risk of these children going missing due to foster carers not being able to develop trusting relationships with them. It lays the blame on foster carers not being adequately trained to understand the experiences and the risks the children have faced. There is no mention in the report of the lack of support foster carers receive when caring for these children. Some of our foster carers are already offering a high standard of care to these children, with little to no extra support from the local authority. One GMB member / single foster carer reported to us that they were provided with a translator for only 1 hour per week to help communicate with the teenage boy she was caring for. A child who spoke very little English and was struggling to adapt to the new culture he was living in.
The GMB supports more funding for training foster carers who care for unaccompanied children. But it is essential that extra support is provided by local authorities responsible for these children.
The report also claims that there is not a shortage of foster carers and that there are more foster care placements than there are children in care. They state that the issue is actually due to the types or geographical location of available foster carers. This is why the GMB has been campaigning for a national register of foster carers, allowing local authorities to share resources and enable foster carers to provide their services in any local authority, and not be restricted to just one as they currently are.
Care of Unaccompanied Migrant Children & Child Victims of Modern Slavery: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities (November 2017)
This statutory guidance is for Local Authority Chief Executives, Director’s of Children’s Services and Lead Members for Children’s Services.
Training should be available to all those involved in the care of unaccompanied children or child victims of modern slavery. Specifically, they should be trained to recognise indicators of trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour.
There should be no assumptions made about the language skills of children. An interpreter will often be required, and therefore should be.
Local authorities are required to have a clear policy on how they obtain suitable interpreters for children who need them. Foster carers should insist that one is provided.
Health Care Plan:
Prior to the placement there should be an assessment and Health Plan provided.
The health plan should cover emotional, mental and physical health needs, including sexual if appropriate.
A Personal Education Plan should also be included which will ensure that the child and foster carer receives the advice and support they need.
Specialist legal support is also essential for unaccompanied children and details of this provision and how support can be accessed should also included in the care plan.
There should be further assessments and a review of the health plan at least once every 6 months for children aged under 5 years, and 12 months thereafter. GMB advises foster carers to request assessments or reviews earlier if they think one is needed.
All placements should be based on careful consideration of the wider support needs of the child, including cultural, language and social skills. However, the most important issue is that the placement is the most appropriate for the child. Local authorities are required to be dynamic in helping foster carers meet these needs. The provision of mentors or specialist groups should be considered.
Foster carers should be made aware of any risks of the child going missing, or risks from those who may wish to exploit them. This should include practical steps of what to do if they do go missing, or if they suspect someone is trying to lure them away.
Foster carers should be fully aware of past experiences and psychological issues, especially if not immediately apparent.
Rachel Harrison, GMB Organiser for foster carers, said: “The GMB fully supports the UK offering a safe home for unaccompanied children. This needs to be done with a considered and appropriate approach and we welcome the extra funding being offered to improve the training and support available to our foster carers.”
“If you have any concerns about how your local authority is approaching the care of unaccompanied children or the pressures being put on foster carers in these circumstances, please contact your local GMB Organiser.”
For further details contact GMB on 0345 337 7777