Directors of children’s services have made an urgent call for “robust guidance” and “sufficient funding” to accompany a new government policy allowing unaccompanied Ukrainian children to come to the UK.
The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) raised concerns over the lack of guidance around the legal status of unaccompanied Ukrainian children and the role of the local authority in the event of a placement breaking down.
Since the war began, around 1,000 children have applied for the pre-existing Homes for Ukraine visa but were ineligible as they would be unaccompanied.
On Wednesday (22 June), the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) announced that it had extended the visa to children and minors under the age of 18 who have already applied through the visa scheme to come to the UK without a parent or guardian.
The changes will enable a child to apply for a visa if they have proof of parental consent.
As part of the scheme, extensive sponsor checks will be carried out by local authorities ahead of any visa being granted, with councils able to veto any sponsor arrangements they deem unsuitable.
Councils will be asked to undertake regular checks on the child and will be able to use existing statutory powers to protect the child's wellbeing where there are concerns, the government said.
Those arriving under the scheme will receive full access to education, healthcare and public services. In addition, local authorities will receive £10,500 per child, alongside further government funding to provide education and childcare services for children on a per-pupil basis.
According to Steve Crocker, ADCS President, the Association has been involved in ongoing conversations with the government, LGA, and others about how to open a safe route to the UK for unaccompanied children and the additional safeguards that will be needed.
However, commenting on the Government's announcement, Mr Crocker said: "Local authorities urgently need robust guidance, and sufficient funding, to support us to keep children safe and to meet their needs, we are disappointed that this was not published as this announcement was made.
"We eagerly await the guidance to understand better what the expectations are for local authorities."
He added: "Local authorities want to play our part in this humanitarian crisis, but we need government's support with this. There are outstanding issues with the two schemes in place to welcome Ukrainian refugees which need to be quickly resolved, including the disparity in funding between the two schemes. To keep children safe and to ensure their immediate and future needs can be met, it is vital that all the necessary checks are completed prior to visas being issued and that funding is forthcoming before checks are undertaken.
"Should the situation arise where a child's placement breaks down, the legal status of those children and the role of the local authority needs to be clearly set out in guidance. Furthermore, there are currently several schemes in place to welcome refugees and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into the UK, and so it will be important for government to consider these schemes together to understand the pressures on the system as a whole and to ensure equity between the different schemes."
A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with the Local Government Association over several weeks as we’ve developed this expansion to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. We will continue to engage with them and local authorities as we bring children to safety.”