The report was presented by Clare Moore.
Referring to paragraph 3.1, Councillor Pothecary asked for an update on the missing UASC and how many children were currently missing. Sheila Murphy explained that the UASC were still missing and that some UASC that arrived tended to have plans on where to go and would usually go missing within a few days of arrival. She stated that this was a national issue. She explained that missing UASC was reported to the police and meetings were held every 6 weeks to discuss the cases. If a UASC was found, the service encouraged them to come into care. Sharon Smith added that it was difficult to prevent UASC from leaving a foster home when they already had plans to leave. There were also concerns over their age particularly where they appeared much older than their given age.
Councillor Pothecary was concerned that UASC that went missing were vulnerable and open to exploitation. She commented that the 6 weekly meetings seemed far apart. Sheila Murphy explained that if information was received in between meetings, action would be taken immediately. She said that the meetings were not a national requirement and was a part of the Council’s practice which Ofsted (at the recent inspection) had assessed as good practice. She explained that as the UASC were not known to the Council, it was hard to track movement as the usual process was to track missing children through family and friend networks. The majority of UASC that arrived were usually placed into the service’s care or to other local authorities and very few went missing.
Councillor Carter asked for the figures on the return of missing UASC. Janet Simon answered that 2019 had a larger number of UASC arrivals and that figure had decreased. She said that there were currently two missing UASC aged 16 and 17 and two other missing non-UASC were aged 16. She explained that the service tried to keep children in placements but there were various reasons why UASC would go missing.
Councillor Polley questioned whether there was a reduction of health visitors, teachers or other people that were usually the eyes and ears looking after children during lockdown restrictions. Janet Simon answered that children referrals came from a number of resources which continued during lockdown. She stated that schools had been fantastic and vigilant during these times and that social workers continued to see looked after children.
Regarding the return home interviews, Councillor Muldowney questioned how the child’s voice was fed into these. Clare Moore answered that the child’s voice was the main focus and the interview was an opportunity for the child to give their opinion. This was fed back into risk management meetings and development meetings to ensure that social workers were aware of the issue to prevent it from happening again. Janet Simon added that the service aimed to have a balance between ensuring children were safe whilst giving them their freedom.
The Chair asked what measures were in place to prevent UASC from going missing and raised concerns over UASC that appeared older than their given age. Naintara Khosla explained that the service had been working with the police to advise UASC upon arrival of immigration offences. The service encouraged UASC to come into care and that they were safe. Janet Simon said that when a UASC presented themselves as a young person, the Council had to treat them as a young person an age assessment took place. Naintara Khosla explained that the police had a process to collate the biometrics of new arrivals and this would help to identify whether they had made a claim in another country.
This report provided the Members of the Corporate Parenting Committee with an overview into the work that has taken place since January 2020 and the improvement journey. There is a commitment from staff to implement these changes, with areas of good practice. Members were asked to note the contents of this report and the provision of support given to young people at risk of exploitation.