Care for Every Child: SWU and BASW sign joint statement on the urgent need to safeguard unaccompanied children

The government must put an end to the unofficial and ongoing shadow system of hotel accommodation for children not born in the UK

The Social Workers Union (SWU) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) are two of over 70 signatories to Children England and Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) UK’s joint statement “Unaccompanied children must be protected by the care system, not placed in hotels” calling for urgent action.

This joint statement of concern was made in response to ECPAT UK’s new report Outside the Frame: Unaccompanied children denied care and protection which focuses on concerns about children arriving in the UK alone who are being unlawfully excluded from the duties and protections afforded to all children in England. The report states at the outset, “We fear that the use of hotels by the Home Office, operating outside of England’s care system for children, has led to children suffering significant harm, with over 10 children going missing in just one of the reported months.”

Reporting on the joint statement, the Independent quotes committee chair Dame Diana Johnson addressing parliament last month:

“The practice of placing unaccompanied children in hotels has resulted in an unknown number of children disappearing either temporarily or, in some cases, permanently.

“We recommend that the government confirm urgently who is responsible for safeguarding these children and tell us what they are doing to prevent children, alone and potentially vulnerable, simply vanishing from sight into unknown hands and unknown futures.”

This practice has been described by the Department for Education and the Home Office as a temporary “emergency measure” but it has been ongoing for two years with no end in sight. ECPAT UK published its most recent data on the situation:

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. 45 children, some as young as 11, went missing over a 10-month period.

“Reading ECPAT UK’s latest figures on how many children have been placed in hotel accommodation instead of the care any unaccompanied child has the right to – and how many have gone missing from that accommodation – was truly chilling. This supposedly temporary Home Office policy has become a shadow system that sets a dangerous precedent, where some children are entitled to care and some children are not, based on where they’ve come from. The breadth of support for our statement of concern should remind the government that children are children first, and the care system and legal protections like the Children Act 1989 are there for every child – not only those born in the UK.”

Chloë Darlington, Children England

We cannot overstate our concern for these isolated and traumatised children. They need – and are entitled to – care in supportive foster or residential homes, with skilled professionals to help them recover in safety.

We fully support the recommendations in ECPAT UK’s report: use of Home Office hotel accommodation must cease and central government must invest in proper care for children, so that local authorities can accept and support every child who arrives on our shores without a parent or guardian, as the law dictates. The government needs to step up and fulfil its vital role of protecting and caring for children without discrimination.