As Children’s Commissioner for England, it is my statutory duty to promote and protect the rights of all children. This duty includes particular responsibility towards children in the care of the state, which extends to those children arriving in the United Kingdom seeking asylum.
That is why, since I took up post, I and my team have made regular visits to the Kent Intake Unit – where UK authorities detain and process those arriving across the Channel – as well as to the hotels where Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children are then transferred.
It is essential that all the proper safeguards are in place for children arriving here, either with their families or alone. Children arriving alone are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and it is deeply concerning that so many have gone missing when they have the same right to care and protection as all children. My Help at Hand team of child rights advisors has experience supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and I have made sure their contact information is provided to all those children we visited. If you are working directly with a child who could benefit from advice and assistance from my team, the details are here.
My priority is to make sure that every child arriving here alone is supported to move to a caring, loving place to live as swiftly as possible. I was pleased that the National Transfer Scheme – the protocol which allows for children to be moved on from the Local Authority area they arrive into to other areas of the country – was made mandatory, to make finding the right homes for children more possible. But it is essential that there are no delays in decision making and that children are moved to appropriate placements within Kent, or in other Local Authorities if that is in their best interests, urgently.
I have written to the Home Secretary to find out more about the number of unaccompanied children still in hotels or other settings awaiting a transfer, and to seek assurances about the safeguarding measures that are in place, as well as their access to education and healthcare. I have specifically asked about the numbers of unaccompanied children within the Manston Migrant Centre, and what action is being taken to find them new homes and to keep them – and those children arriving with their families – safe while they are there.
I will continue to visit these settings, to see the conditions for myself, offer the assistance of my team when necessary, and meet with the Home Secretary to discuss what needs to happen for these children.