Regular readers will know IMPOWER works with children’s services to reduce demand on specialist social care services, often by increasing the effectiveness and targeting of early intervention services. Currently I’m working with a council who is grappling not only with high levels of looked after children, but where many of those are asylum seekers, which are hard to predict and impossible to avoid. This got me thinking about how best to manage the increase in numbers of this exceptionally vulnerable cohort of children.
The government launched the National Transfer Scheme for migrant children back in July. It aims to provide a national response to the unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied children travelling to and claiming asylum in the UK.
Until recently, responsibility for unaccompanied asylum seeking children (commonly known as UASC) fell to the authority where the asylum seeker was identified and their claim processed. Under the new arrangements, where the number of UASC a council cares for at any one time exceeds 0.7% of the total number of children it looks after, it can arrange for further UASC to be transferred to other areas where there are fewer UASC (but still under 0.7%).
As a result, I’m expecting areas all around the country to start seeing a need for more placements for UASC. But where to start?
IMPOWER has a clear and proven way of helping councils attract and retain foster carers. Our methodology involves working with authorities to engage local communities meaningfully with the right messages, channels and messengers (see our recent case study in Derbyshire). The approach to increasing and retaining foster carers to manage the increase in UASC is the same but, with the additional demand pressure, results will need to be seen sooner.
To get started, councils could do worse than looking to organisations to help broker and facilitate conversations with key community groups. For example, Home for Good reach out and begin trusted conversations with specific communities – in this case, Church communities – about fostering and adoption. So far, they have received over 11,000 enquiries from people across the country interested in helping refugee children.
Working with councils, such organisations are able to qualify these enquiries and link them to local fostering services for screening, training and assessment. This is all within weeks and, by my reckoning, the cost is less than 5% of what a typical council spends to achieve the same goals. These carers will be in-house, rather than external, if they go on to provide mainstream care too, the benefits multiply.
Looking after vulnerable children is surely one of or the most important things we do in our society. Finding enough people to help is not easy and the situation is now all the more pressing due to the refugee crisis. It is a challenge but if councils think creatively and commercially about what they can do differently, then vulnerable children – both asylum seekers and local children – could benefit.