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Home Office ignored charity’s offers to house asylum-seeking children

Exclusive: Government claim that care system is too full for migrant kids is ‘completely untrue’, says foster charity 

Adam Bychawski
26 January 2023, 5.12pm

200 children remain missing from government-run hotels.


Alan Fraser / Alamy Stock Photo

The Home Office ignored repeated offers to find homes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and placed them in hotels to discourage more people from coming to the UK, the head of the country’s largest foster care charity has claimed.

Andy Elvin, the chief executive of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust (TACT), told openDemocracy that the government seemed to think that “if they treat people badly, then less people will come to the UK”. 

The news comes after ministers admitted that 200 children remain missing from government-run hotels, following warnings from police and whistleblowers that they are being targeted by criminal gangs. 

On Tuesday, Home Office minister Robert Jenrick claimed that significant capacity issues are preventing the government from moving children out of hotels, and urged MPs to ask their local authorities to find more spaces in care homes.

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But Elvin dismissed Jenrick’s claims as “completely untrue”, saying he and others have made clear they could find homes for the children in the care system.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Elvin said: “This whole thing was completely avoidable. This isn’t a crisis of capacity in the care home system, it’s a crisis of competence.

“On any given day, the system could have accommodated all of these children. But because the Home Office were not organised enough to make this happen they ended up block booking hotels with inadequate staffing and inadequate safeguards.”

More than 4,600 unaccompanied children have been accommodated in hotels in the UK since July 2021. Elvin said his charity and several others offered to find places for the children in a meeting with the Home Office in March 2022, but were ignored by the government.

“They said, ‘Oh yes, that’s very good. We’ll talk to people, we’re looking at it’ and then nothing changes,” he told openDemocracy.

Since 2016, the Home Office has used a system called the National Transfer Scheme to find homes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children across local authorities in the UK. But Elvin said the system only tells the department what availability there is in council-run homes and not in private and non-for-profit homes or in foster agencies.

He added that councils are wary of working with the Home Office because the funding it has provided in the past did not cover their costs and was sometimes paid late.

Private companies run more than 80% of children’s homes in England, providing 8,023 places, compared to the 1,485 offered by local authorities. There are also more than 43,000 fostering households in England, according to the government.

Elvin said that conversations to provide the Home Office with a weekly updated vacancies list have “gone nowhere” and that it was “incompetence and mentality” rather than difficulty that was preventing the system from being improved.

“The Hostile Environment mentality is alive and well in the Home Office. The Windrush scandal hasn’t brushed it away. Somewhere in their heads, institutionally, they think if they treat people badly, then less people will come to the UK,” he said.

Elvin’s comments come as Tory MP Jonathan Gullis faces criticism for saying asylum-seeking children who have gone missing “shouldn’t have come here illegally” in a heckle at yesterday’s prime minister’s questions.

In March last year, Elvin said that fostering and child welfare charities as well as Brighton and Hove council warned the Home Office that housing vulnerable children in hotels would be a “disaster”. 

“If you’ve got very vulnerable children, you need to assess them properly to know what their behavioural and emotional needs are.. If there are issues of poor mental health or the possibility of self harm. [The Home Office] knew none of that,” he recalls.

Today, more than 100 charities including NSPCC, Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, the Refugee Council and TACT wrote to the prime minister asking him to end the use of hotels to house unaccompanied children.

“There is no legal basis for placing children in Home Office hotel accommodation and almost two years into the operation of the scheme which is both unlawful and harmful, it is no longer possible to justify the use of hotels as being ‘temporary’,” the letter said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The wellbeing of children and minors in our care is an absolute priority. Robust safeguarding procedures are in place to ensure all children and minors are safe and supported as we seek urgent placements with a local authority.  

“Any child or minor going missing is extremely serious, and we work around the clock with the police and local authorities to urgently locate them and ensure they are safe. 

“We are determined to stop the use of hotels for all minors. To achieve this goal, we are providing local authorities with £15,000 for every unaccompanied child they take into their care.”

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