Call to provide more support for asylum-seeking children in East Sussex

Councillors described how children seeking asylum 'come to a country they don't know, with a language they don't know and into a culture that is completely alien'
Councillors described how children seeking asylum 'come to a country they don't know, with a language they don't know and into a culture that is completely alien'

East Sussex County Council should do more to welcome in unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the UK, a group of councillors has recommended.

This comes as part of a report from a scrutiny review board, which was tasked with looking at how the council supports this vulnerable group and what more it could do to help them.

It was considered at a meeting of the council’s people scrutiny committee last Thursday (September 19).

Introducing the report to committee members, the board’s chairman Cllr Kathryn Field (Lib Dem, Battle and Crowhurst) said: “We are talking about a group of people who are extraordinarily vulnerable.

“They are traumatised when they arrive, they have been victims of or witnesses to tortur  and they come to a country they don’t know, with a language they don’t know and into a culture that is completely alien. 

“There are fundamental things that we just take for granted, which are a complete block to them.”

Cllr Field said the board felt the council’s current work with this group, which she described  as ‘spectacular’, was already of good quality overall.

However, the board found that even with a good level of support the process of adapting to life in the UK will often “be challenging and bewildering”.

In light of this, the board made six recommendations for ways the council could improve the experience of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in East Sussex.

These included calls for the council to set up a special social space, where the children can meet others in the same situation and build up a support network of their peers. 

The report also recommends giving the children access to work experience projects as another way they could build up a social support system, although councillors heard some work has already begun in this area as a result of the review.

The board also recommends the council look at providing intensive language courses for the children, which they could take part in within their first four to six weeks of arriving in the UK.

It also calls on the council to liaise with volunteer groups working in the same field and, similarly, draw up a toolkit for councillors, giving information on what local services either able to or specifically designed to assist.

The board’s final recommendation covers the type of accommodation the council offers to the children, with the report advising the council to find ways to increase the number of specialised places it has available and to offer more cultural awareness training. 

According to the full report the council currently has an insufficient level of experienced providers of supported housing, supported lodgings and foster placements suitable for unaccompanied young asylum seekers.

All six recommendations were approved by the scrutiny committee and have been referred to the council’s cabinet for further discussion. 

They have already received some support from one cabinet member, with lead member for children’s services Cllr Sylvia Tidy praising the board’s work during the scrutiny meeting.

Cllr Tidy said: “I welcome this report. I think what you have heard from [officers] is that we are not standing still and that every day there is a different number of young people under our care. 

“The other thing we have to remember is that we are not getting any extra money and it is particularly difficult for those care leavers where that has not been recognised as a need by Government.

“We will obviously have a fuller debate at cabinet and full council, but I just wanted to say that the work the department has done so far has been very, very positive. 

“Thank you for the report and I am sure, where it is possible, we fully look at the recommendations and include them.”

The recommendations were also endorsed by the council’s head of children’s services Stuart Gallimore, who described them as ‘aspirational but realistic’