It has been widely reported over the last couple of days the number of children who have gone missing or been taken from Home Office provided accommodation provided for children by the Home Office. It has been confirmed by government that 200 children have gone missing from this Home Office accommodation.
For some 2 years now, the Home Office has been using hotel accommodation to accommodate children (under 18 years of age) in hotels set up solely for that purpose. These hotels have in fact increased in number both over that time and more recently.
Together with Migrant Children, within groups such as the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium and within the wider migrant rights and children’s sector have been warning for a long time about the risks associated with these hotels and the deep concerns over the care, or lack of, provided to children in hotel accommodation. The revelations over the last few days are no surprise and highlight the significant risks and vulnerabilities associated with hotel accommodation for unaccompanied children, including the serious risk of further trafficking and exploitation.
The care system we acknowledge is suffering from issues with capacity, identifying appropriate placements and local authorities are dealing with increased children’s social care workloads. However, this cannot excuse or outweigh the serious risks facing this group of children and the dangerous precedent being set of children being outside of the legal protections provided by the state for children who live outside of home and our adherence to children’s rights frameworks. Local Authorities, the Home Office and wider government have both a responsibility and legal duty to resolve the current situation.
Ordinarily, once accepted as a child, a local authority will provide support pursuant to Section 20 Children Act 1989. This includes an allocated worker, care planning and review and support in achieving a plan which includes education, health etc. The support provided under Section 20 is designed to be more than just the provision of accommodation, recognising the vulnerability of this group and working towards preparing them for adulthood and independence.
The Home Office is not a local authority; they cannot exercise powers under Section 20. The local authorities where these hotels are, are not exercising power under section 20 for them or other powers for them. The use of outside of care placements by the Home Office is unlawful and a significant step away from the legal protections enshrined in domestic and international legislation for children’s protection.
Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 requires the Home Office to consider the safety and safeguarding of children within the immigration system and arguably requires them to make prompt referrals to local authorities of all children. The National Transfer scheme which was brought in through the Immigration Act 2016, is deliberately designed to ensure responsibility for unaccompanied children is maintained by a local authority and not the Home Office.
These children fall completely outside of any legal protections in the UK for children who live outside of home. The children’s commissioner has published a statement and written to the Home Secretary asking questions and seeking assurances on the care and support offered to children and young people. However, whilst the questions seek assurances on safeguarding responses, it remains the case that these children should not be in the care of the Home Office and their continuing lack of support remains unlawful.
The only and right solution is the cessation of the hotel program in its entirety and the Home Office and local authorities working together to ensure the resources exist in the national transfer system to enable all children to immediately enter care.