Number of asylum-seeking children in Suffolk County Council care significantly rises

Cliff James, head of corporate parenting services at Suffolk County Council.

Cliff James, head of corporate parenting services at Suffolk County Council.

One new child arrives on their own in Suffolk every week seeking refuge from turmoil in their homeland, new figures reveal.

The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) under the care of Suffolk County Council has risen significantly over the past three years.

There are currently 39 asylum-seekers aged 18 or under being looked after by the council’s children and young people’s service, which has welcomed one new minor every week since the start of this year.

This figure has increased since 2013, when only 14 youngsters were under the local authority’s care. The number rose to 28 in 2014 and then to 44 last year.

According to a report to the council’s children’s service scrutiny committee, this surge in numbers will cause “significant pressures” to the system in Suffolk.

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Cliff James, head of corporate parenting services at Suffolk County Council, said the majority of these children were boys aged between 16 and 18, with most of them fleeing Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea and Iraq.

“They are travelling significant distance across Europe to get to us and have often experienced significant trauma to get here from their own country,” he added.

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“Many come through the Channel ports then they are usually dropped off on the back of a lorry somewhere on our road network, usually the A12 and A14, and they then end up being picked up by the police.

“Every authority in the eastern region has had a similar increase but it reflects what we see on our televisions every night, but these people aren’t families, they are young people on their own.

“All of them in some way or another have been trafficked in the sense they have been brought here with some assistance, but that’s not necessarily all of them being exploited.

“For some of them their families have paid for them to get here, but it varies a lot.

“I think they have certainly experienced some particularly awful things. They have seen people being killed or they have seen significant trauma in their home countries which of course we have to address and try to support them with. They may well have lost contact with or lost their parents so they have been sent from their home country with the idea of seeking a better life or stability.”

Mr James said the newcomers had to undergo “extensive interviews” to work out their age and their background, as most will arrive without any identification and will often not be able to speak much English.

The children will be helped with their application for asylum and given a placement with a foster carer or accommodation with one of the council’s supported housing schemes.

The council is responsible for finding the child a school place and it will also sign them up on an English language course if they need it.

“Often they are keen to learn English and keen to cook and look after themselves,” Mr James added.

“What I would say is actually in terms of our experience of caring for these young people they are very keen to integrate, keen to learn and want to take advantage of being in this country.

“They have got aspirations and they want to be able to give as much as they get, so looking after them is quite a positive experience.”

Suffolk has also agreed to take up to 15 children, aged between 16 and 18, from Kent by the end of April.

Kent currently has more than 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children for whom they are struggling to provide services.

This comes following a request from the Home Office and Department for Education and under the UASC dispersal programme, which is designed to share the burden of extremely high numbers of young people entering the UK via Kent ports.

The Government provides extra funding to help local authorities support these children.

Mr James said finding accommodation for the young asylum seekers was challenging but the council was managing.

“The properties aren’t instantly there waiting, we have to work at developing it so that’s why we are keen to hear from people as well,” he added.

Anyone who is willing to be a foster carer or offer accommodation for young people arriving in Suffolk is asked to contact the county council via its website.

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