On Thursday 27th July a High Court judge, Mr Justice Chamberlain, said: “From December 2021 at the latest, the practice of accommodating children in hotels, outside local authority care, was both systematic and routine and had become an established part of the procedure for dealing with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. From that point on, the home secretary’s provision of hotel accommodation for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children exceeded the proper limits of her powers and was unlawful.”
So a High Court judge has clearly said that Priti Patel, Grant Shapps and Suella Braverman all acted unlawfully, and that means they must now be held to account for their wanton disregard for the law.
The appalling outcome of such unlawful action is that 154 children remain missing from hotels, including a 12-year-old child. The Judge said, “Neither Kent County Council nor the home secretary knows where these children are, or whether they are safe or well.”
It is now abundantly clear that the Home Office is an unfit and criminally neglectful parent. Had a birth parent placed their child alone in a hotel from which they had then gone missing, the parent would be arrested for child abandonment and criminal neglect. So why is the threshold for action against the Home Secretary as ‘corporate parent’ different?
The only conclusion that can be come to by the placing of vulnerable unaccompanied children in hotels is that it was a deliberate act of malice on the part of the Home Office. It comes from the institutionalised ‘hostile environment’ mentality now embedded in the Home Office. This thinking clings to the fantasy that if they treat unaccompanied children neglectfully and appallingly then fewer children will make the journey to the UK. This shows not only contempt for children, but also a wilful ignorance of the reasons children migrate. Children are generally fleeing an existential threat, and having to endure the petty cruelties of the Home Office once they arrive in the UK, plays no part in their ‘decision’ to seek refuge in the UK. A decision most often made for them by parents who fear for their children’s lives.
“Neither Kent County Council nor the home secretary knows where these children are, or whether they are safe or well.”
Alongside this egregious thinking, there is also a large dose of institutional incompetence on the part of the Home Office. There is now, and has always been, space in the care system for unaccompanied children. However, the Home Office is incapable of running a straightforward placements duty service – which Local Authorities (LAs) do day in, day out. A proper duty system is needed with LAs being divided into groups of 10 and each region would have a ‘duty’ week every 15/16 weeks when that group/region would take unaccompanied children. The week before that the LAs, IFAs and children’s homes could flag up all vacancies they have in that region to the duty team who could then place the children arriving.
This needs to be run by the LAs, through the LGA as the Home Office has shown beyond question that it cannot be trusted to protect the best interest of vulnerable children.
This service could also ensure better assessments of the children arriving, so matching can be better enacted. These appraisals would focus on the needs of the children and not waste time on age assessments that are no more accurate than tossing a coin to decide a child’s age.
The welfare of all children, regardless of whether they have the misfortune to be unaccompanied asylum seekers or not, will always be dependent on the actions of adults. Unaccompanied children deserve our protection, and the UK has families right now who would welcome such children in to their homes, there was never any need of hotel accommodation. TACT has many examples of unaccompanied young people who have overcome the trauma of fleeing their home countries, thanks to the power of fostering, and gone on to be responsible, caring and successful members of society.
This excellent judgement from Mr Justice Chamberlain should draw a close to the state sponsored neglect of unaccompanied children and a return to treating unaccompanied children according to the 1989 Children Act. It should also spell the end of the Home Office playing any role in the reception and care of vulnerable children. We all owe a debt of gratitude to ECPAT UK and Brighton and Hove Council for standing up for vulnerable children and the Children Act.
If fostering Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) is something that you feel that you could do, you can complete the enquiry form on this page – or read more about fostering Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children.