£4 million bill for asylum-seeking children in Northamptonshire has to stop urges council boss

Councillor Heather Smith is desperately calling for more foster carers to step forward due to this summer's massive increase in children seeking asylum in Northamptonshire.

Councillor Heather Smith is desperately calling for more foster carers to step forward due to this summer's massive increase in children seeking asylum in Northamptonshire.

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The number of unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Northamptonshire has nearly doubled over the past two years figures reveal – prompting urgent calls for more foster carers to step forward.

Figures from 2015 reveal the county has been inundated with under 18-year-olds seeking refuge in the UK during this summer’s European Migrant crisis.

In June alone, 31 unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) were taken into the care of Northamptonshire County Council, 10 times more than the same month in 2014.

It means the authority is now looking after 269 refugee youngsters at a startling cost of £4 million a year - almost 60 more than in 2012/2013.

Cabinet member for vulnerable children at the county council, Councillor Heather Smith, (Con, Oundle) said the lack of foster carers in Northamptonshire also means the authority is having to pay carers in other areas to take the children in at grossly inflated costs and means there are 40 vulnerable youngsters vying for every available foster bed in the county now.

She said: “The Government gives us some funding, but if we had plenty of foster beds in the county, that money would cover our costs.

“Because we are in a situation where we don’t have enough foster carers, we have to buy beds through agencies, which sends the price up.”

Councillor Smith said Northamptonshire is getting an unusually high number of asylum seeking children - many who have undergone torturous journeys stowed away in juggernauts from Somalia and Syria - because the county is a logistics hub in which many lorries arrive from the continent, or stop for a break.

Under government laws the local authority in which unaccompanied asylum seeking children arrive in the UK have a responsibility for their care until the youngsters reach the age of 18.

The social worker assigned to a child is then required by law to keep up regular visits, even if that child is then housed elsewhere in far flung parts of the country, heaping on more cost on cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council - which is set for a £17.5 million overspend in the 2015/16 year.

As well as calling on more people to register as foster carers Councillor Smith is also calling on the Local Government Agency to lobby Parliament for a change in the laws.

She said: “It’s putting a huge amount of additional pressure on us.

“But I have no issues with the children coming under our care. Many are 14, 15-year-olds who have travelled to England on their own and they need our care.

“But the Government needs to stop this ridiculous situation where social workers drive all round the country.

“I’m not criticising these children, but either the legislation needs to change or the Government needs to help us more.”

To register as a foster carer head to www.northamptonshire.gov.uk