On 24th August the Home Office announced that the ‘transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from temporary hotels to long-term care will be sped up’, meaning that unaccompanied children will spend less time in the hotels where they are being unlawfully accommodated by the Home Office.

This announcement is extremely concerning because it normalises the Home Office’s use of hotels for these purposes and suggests the policy is acceptable, when in fact housing unaccompanied children in hotels is unlawful, dangerous and takes place outside of the UK’s child welfare legislation.

All children must be treated as children first and foremost, regardless of who they are, where they came from or how they got to the UK. Children are entitled to protection and care, and a two-tier system does nothing to achieve that – in fact, it puts children at risk.

Local authorities in England have a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need, and must be supported to do so. Since the summer of 2020, however, unaccompanied children arriving in England have had their rights systematically breached, and have been denied the protections they should be afforded under the Children Act 1989. They have not had their needs assessed and have been unlawfully excluded from and denied the care of local authorities, and instead are being placed directly by the Home Secretary in Home Office-sourced hotels. Many children have gone missing as a result of this policy.

Our recent report, Outside the Frame, highlights that 1,606 children who arrived alone in England between July 2021 and June 2022 were placed in hotel accommodation directly by the Home Office, instead of in the care of local authorities where they could receive the support and protection that, by law, every child in the UK is entitled to.

We know that 45 children, some as young as 11, went missing over a 10-month period to March 2022, and we can only assume that many more have gone missing since. Any period of time spent in these hotels instead of the care system puts these children at risk for trafficking, re-trafficking and exploitation and traffickers know this.  

Whilst any increase in funding is welcome, the additional £2,000 per child for the first three months does nothing to address sustainability and children’s long-term needs. We agree with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and its President’s assertion that the announcement does nothing to address the many pressing and longstanding pressures in the system. After a decade of austerity, there is a chronic funding crisis facing children’s social care, a significant increase in the number of children on child protection plans, and a plethora of early help services have been cut. The greatest challenge facing children’s services is sufficiency of homes or places to care for children, especially for the most vulnerable children.

The use of Home Office hotel accommodation must cease, and central government must invest in proper care for children, so that local authorities can support every child in need as the law dictates.

Our recommendations are:

  • The UK Government must prioritise cross-departmental collaboration particularly between the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Levelling up, Housing & Communities to ensure the lawful care and protection of unaccompanied children.
  • The Home Secretary must immediately cease to unlawfully accommodate unaccompanied children and fulfil the statutory duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009.
  • The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities must ensure local authority children’s services have sufficient resource and capacity to fulfil their legal obligations to care for children in need in their area.
  • The Secretary of State for Education must ensure that all cases of unaccompanied children going missing are considered at high risk of exploitation and that serious incident notifications are made to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

Read our earlier response to the Home Office’s use of hotels here, published in partnership with Children England and signed by over 70 organisations.