TEN child asylum seekers were cared for last year by a Gwent council – but only three of those could actually live within its boundaries.
Of those 10, seven had been allocated to Monmouthshire County Council under the Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme which requires all local authorities to accommodate and offer care and support to unaccompanied asylum seeking children and young people.
The scheme is intended to ease pressures on councils in areas where the majority of unaccompanied children arrive, predominantly in the South East of England, though Monmouthshire has also traditionally seen children without any adults responsible for them suddenly arriving in the county.
The figures are included in the council’s annual safeguarding report, and when it was discussed at a joint meeting of the council’s overview and people scrutiny committee, Conservative member for Abergavenny’s Pen y Fal ward Maureen Powell asked: “Are we getting a lot of asylum seeking children in this county?”
Due to the M4 running across the south of the county the report says Monmouthshire has a “history” of receiving youngsters fleeing oppression, exploitation, or war, but Diane Corrister, the council’s head of children’s services, said there can also be other reasons for a child suddenly arriving without support.
She said: “Monmouthshire has always had children spontaneously arrive, out of the back of a lorry at Magor services for example, but a young person being kept in suspicious circumstances in a home, across in the Forest (of Dean), came across the border and became our responsibility.”
The report said, of the 10 asylum seekers aged under 18 in the council’s care last year, three had “spontaneously arrived”.
Though the figures for the 2022/23 financial year showed 10 unaccompanied child asylum seekers had been placed in the council’s care, Ms Corrister said that has increased and the council has a cap, under the scheme, of 19, which has been reached this year.
She said the majority of those are boys and aged 14 or over. She said there is a responsibility to place those aged 14 to 16 in foster care while it has to find “safe and suitable accommodation” for those who are 16 and above.
She said the council also needs to accommodate for their cultural needs, with many being “Afghan or Saudi”.
The report said, of the 10 children cared for last year, nine were boys and all aged 16 to 17 – but only three actually lived in Monmouthshire with the others in out of county placements.
The report said: “Children’s services does not have sufficient culturally suitable accommodation to provide placements for all of our asylum seeking young people.”
The council is working with a Gwent body and other council leaders in the area to develop its services as a priority this year and has a designated worker in its long term support team to access “appropriate services and advocacy as needed.”
Overall the number of children placed into the local authority’s care last year increased from 208, the previous year, to 211.
But the report said the number of children from Monmouthshire had decreased and there had only been two unaccompanied asylum seeking children the previous year meaning while 206 children from Monmouthshire were taken into care in 2021/22 that dropped to 201 last year.
The figures however remain higher than the Welsh average.
Councillors were also told the authority has programmes in place to work with families, to prevent children from entering, care but it also struggles to recruit foster cares, including those able to take unaccompanied asylum seeking children.