Written evidence submitted by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium (RMCC)


Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium



Submission to the Education Select Committee Inquiry -
Children’s Homes, April 2021


  1. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium (RMCC) is a group of over 50 NGOs working collaboratively to ensure that the rights and needs of refugee and migrant children are promoted, respected and met in accordance with the relevant domestic, regional and international human rights and welfare standards. For more information and a list of members, please visit
  2. Regardless of their circumstances, all unaccompanied and separated children have the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),[1] and as children temporarily or permanently deprived of their family, they are entitled to special protection and assistance under Article 20 of the UNCRC. In addition, the UN General Assembly Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children 2010[2] emphasise that unaccompanied or separated children should “enjoy the same level of protection and care as national children in the country concerned” (the non-discrimination principle).
  3. There are around 5,000 unaccompanied children looked after by local authorities in England – most are aged 16 and over (85%) and will be accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.[3] There were 6,388 referrals of foreign national potential child victims of trafficking between 2016 – 2020,[4] but there is no available data as to the looked after status of these children. Local authorities have the same duty to protect and support these children as they do any others in their care.


  1. Despite only forming 6% of the population of looked-after children, unaccompanied children form 43% and 36% of the children living in independent or semi-independent accommodation.[5] The government has repeatedly explained this difference as being because the majority are aged 16 and over[6] and so are “more likely to benefit from high quality placements in these settings than the wider cohort of looked-after-children”.[7] However, there has been little research undertaken to ascertain whether this group of children are actually “more likely to benefit” from being placed in unregulated accommodation. 36% of 16-17 year olds in unregulated accommodation are UASC, compared to just 23% of other 16-17 year olds in care.[8]
  2. In fact, the evidence gathered by RMCC members suggests that for most of these children their needs are not being properly assessed prior to and after placement, are not being met in unregulated accommodation and they often do not understand their options for care/ accommodation and do not have their views taken into consideration.


  1. The RMCC believes that there is a pressing need for further measures to ensure that unaccompanied children receive the support and care that they need, especially in light of further measures that would risk legitimising semi-independent and independent accommodation as the norm for 16-17 year olds. We believe that all children aged under 18 should receive care, rather than just support,[9] and we agree with the previous Children’s Commissioner for England that no child under the age of 18 should be placed in an unregulated setting and “as such, there should be a requirement that any setting they are placed in is regulated as a children’s home”.[10]


  1. This submission outlines some of our findings regarding the experience of unregulated accommodation, its use and its appropriateness for young people seeking international protection. It highlights that many young people feel unsafe, unsupported and unheard in unregulated accommodation.

The needs of unaccompanied children

  1. Once in the UK, children seeking international protection face many difficulties, including the following interrelated problems:


  1. As the Department for Education’s (DfE) statutory guidance makes clear, unaccompanied migrant children, including child victims of trafficking, “can be some of the most vulnerable children in the country”. They “are alone, in an unfamiliar country and may be surrounded by people unable to speak their first language… They are at increased risk of going missing, often leaving the care of those who would protect them to return to traffickers who will continue their exploitation. All groups may have experienced emotional trauma in their country of birth, on their journey to the UK or through their treatment by adults in the UK.”[11]

Placement decisions

  1.                                                                                                                                                                                         Decisions around each placement should take into account the needs of the child; whether or not they have been trafficked; their experience during their journey to the UK; their culture, age, sex and personality; their sense of personal autonomy and ability to live independently; and their sense of safety and ideas on what will make them feel safe.


  1. Furthermore, Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires a child’s views to be listened to and taken into account in decision making. The UN Committee has made clear that “to allow for a well-informed expression of such views and wishes, it is imperative that [unaccompanied and separated] children are provided with all relevant information concerning, for example, their entitlements, services available…” In care and accommodation arrangements, children’s views should also be taken into account and information must be provided in a manner that is appropriate to the maturity and level of understanding of each child.[12] These Article 12 requirements are replicated in domestic law through Section 22(4)-(5) of the Children Act 1989.


  1.                                                                                                                                                                                         RMCC members who work with this group often see assumptions made about the resilience and independence of older teenagers based on their ethnicity and nationality, and perhaps because they may have demonstrated those traits in their journey to the UK – some children will have travelled for weeks or months and undertaken extremely dangerous journeys to have reached this country. Misconceptions can exist about that the trauma and stress that unaccompanied young people might face in their journeys from their country of origin ending when they reach the UK and an unaccompanied child may have developed survival skills and possibly a veneer of being able to cope, which may mask their actual needs.[13] A number of young people placed in independent accommodation simply do not have the requisite life skills, such as the ability to budget and cook meals, and ability to care for themselves.
  2.                                                                                                                                                                                         A number of RMCC members have reported that the young people with whom they work feel that they have had little say in the decisions about their placement. Most are unaware of their options, but do not seek to challenge any decisions about their accommodation/care arrangements because they are unaware of their right to do so.


  1.                                                                                                                                                                                         In some areas, all young people in the care of social services and subject to immigration control are placed in unregulated accommodation if they are over 16, raising concerns that these decisions are not usually based on the young person’s wishes or a meaningful assessment of the young person’s needs.
  2. Many member organisations become involved in Looked After Children/ pathway plan reviews because of concerns about housing, and because the young people they work with feel that either the placement itself, staff or location are not right for them. They regularly have to advocate for young people to have access to basic necessities in the accommodation and to prove that young people "deserve" to be heard and believed. There are very low levels of understanding amongst young people about the types of accommodation on offer and the reasons why they are in a particular placement.
  3.                                                                                                                                                                                         This is not the case for all young people (many do not want the higher levels of supervision that come in family-based care), but for some foster placements can offer the support and care they need to recover from their experiences, learn about life in the UK, integrate with their local community and thrive. Where foster care provides the child with care and the development of life skills it can result in fewer cases of children going missing from care and stronger integration outcomes.[14] However, the work of RMCC members suggests that in many cases foster care is not even considered and young people are not having their options for accommodation carefully explained to them. Research has shown that, on average, foster placements for 16 and 17 year olds are not more expensive than semi-independent placements[15] but ongoing difficulties faced by local authorities in finding appropriate foster placements means that placement decisions can be resource driven, rather than based on the child’s needs and wishes.[16]
  4.                                                                                                                                                                                         It is essential that placement decisions are made on the basis of need, not age or other status and that the full benefits of a foster placement must be explained to a young person by their social worker, particularly as their first impulse might, understandably, be to live somewhere more independently. [17] There can be a tension between a young person’s desire for independence and their willingness to receive ‘care’ but frequently RMCC members hear from the young people they work with that they feel as if ‘no-one cares’ about them.

Support received in unregulated accommodation

  1. As highlighted by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, unregulated accommodation is provided by a mix of voluntary and private providers, with the majority (73%) being privately run. The Committee has raised concerns “about the risk of low-quality provision as a result of the significant financial pressures on many local authorities.”[18] RMCC members have found that local authorities are led by market options both in terms of availability and cost of homes. Quality of provision is rarely assessed in line with established needs of the young people.
  2. There are some examples of specialist provision for unaccompanied children that can be very effective, meet their needs and create positive outcomes for this group. However, quality specialist provision is far from being the norm.


  1. The amount of support provided to young people in unregulated accommodation can be very inconsistent, dependent both on the individual accommodation and individual workers operating within it, and determined by the contracts for each provider. Some young people are in shared flats where they very rarely see any professionals; others are in accommodation with 24 hour support via a staff reception and on-call workers. Some report excellent linking up with services, with onsite staff in close contact with, for example, nearby GP practices and colleges, while others feel entirely left on their own. The experiences of frontline staff matched the feedback RMCC members received from young people on this.
  2. The most common practice identified by RMCC members was that young people are given a standard package of support, usually consisting of one or two visits a week from a key worker who meets them in their home. Key workers rarely have enough contracted hours to accompany young people to appointments with their solicitors, or to tribunals, even though these cause enormous anxiety and distress for young people going through the asylum process. Key workers rarely have access to interpreters which often makes full understanding at the beginning of relationships very difficult – the young people do not know what they can ask for, what the limits of support are, or what the difference is between a key worker and a social worker or personal adviser. Key workers also rarely have expertise in working with separated young people and/or a sufficient understanding of the asylum system and support needs of this group.


  1. It is important to note also that as a result of the pandemic much of this contact over the last year would have been virtual/remote, which is even more of a concern. 
  2.                                                                                                                                                                                         There is very low awareness of support staff in semi-independent accommodation on the risks associated with the on-going exploitation of unaccompanied children.  Respondents to a survey of professionals stated support workers possessed little awareness or experience of caring for trafficked or unaccompanied children, and effectively addressing risks associated with going missing.[19]
  3. For example, in one case the young person had a support worker who lived very close to the accommodation and he had five hours with her every week (those newly there had 10 hours). He was very happy with her; she helped with college, health issues, social services and went to appointments with him. By comparison, another young person had a support worker who came to his shared house once a week but did not help with the problems he faced – he gave the example that they did not have hot water for over a month during the winter and he was forced to boil water to wash in. The support worker provided little practical support and would simply signpost to other organisations until eventually he stopped asking her for help. 
  4. Many young people have complained about the other young people they are placed with in semi-independent accommodation because, for example, they drink, play loud music and/or smoke cannabis which makes it very difficult for them to sleep (and many young asylum seekers already have problems with sleep), to focus on homework or to feel comfortable in their placement.
  5. Research from UNICEF has highlighted that 16 and 17 year old children placed in unregulated accommodation “were less able to complete the substantial amount of self-directed learning often incorporated into courses for this age group” and that this living situation was a barrier to their educational progress.[20]
  6. Following their arrival in the UK, unaccompanied young people’s trauma symptoms can be triggered by living in an unstable environment. They are forced to live under incredible stress as a result of ongoing insecurity as well as “fluctuating support from the Home Office and local authorities, poor accommodation and subsistence” and as a result have a high risk of experiencing psychological distress, including sleep disturbances, attention and concentration difficulties, flashbacks of previously experienced trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Better support and care in their living arrangements can help mitigate the effects of the considerable trauma some of these young people have experienced and ensure that they engage with other services.[21]

Safety and security

  1. RMCC members have reported a number of cases of young people reporting feeling unsafe in unregulated accommodation. This includes those who feel unsafe because they share a flat with strangers; because they are hyper-vigilant and experiencing the effects of unaddressed trauma; and those who are unsafe because are very real threats and dangers within their accommodation. These include the location known to those who exploited them, drug dealing and other criminal activity within the household or in the immediate vicinity; accommodation being known to previous residents who still hold keys and let themselves in; theft of possessions from within the accommodation; and in one case local criminals targeting residents of a flat for money, and entering the flat carrying a knife that was used to intimidate the young residents. Alerting people to these problems can be difficult because the accommodation is not typically staffed and the risk not taken into account leading to missing children with significant indicators of re-trafficking. Young people can be left feeling ignored, or that they have no options as they have already been told that where they currently live is the only possible option available.
  2. Recent research from UNHCR highlighted the number of young people interviewed “reported experiencing violence and (racist) bullying in shared accommodation and support living placements” and that in many cases they were left for months in these placements, despite reporting the difficulties there were facing to their social workers.[22]


  1. The use of semi-independent and independent provision to be made illegal for all children in care. All children aged under 18 should receive care, rather than just support. As such, there should be a requirement that any setting they are placed in is regulated as a children’s home.
  2. The Department for Education should introduce a national strategy to ensure sufficient supply of children’s homes.
  3. The Department for Education should take steps to increase the number of foster carers for older teenagers and the number who are trained in providing care for, and supporting, unaccompanied children.[23]
  4. Further work, through training, awareness-raising and monitoring/oversight is required to address the areas where good policies and guidance exists but practice is deficient, including:
    1. ensuring practitioners understand the rights and entitlements of this group, as well as their additional challenges and vulnerabilities and how best to support them
    2. the need to ensure that placement decisions are based on an assessment of the young person’s needs and best interests, taking into account the need to be near core services, religious institutions and other relevant provision.


  1. For appropriate decisions to be made about their accommodation, unaccompanied children should receive support from an independent guardian. It can be difficult for a child with this background to engage meaningfully without support to understand their rights and develop a relationship of trust with an adult who understands their needs. Unaccompanied children are particularly at risk of exploitation or may be trafficking victims but not yet identified, and have additional needs.[24]

April 2021

[1] UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20 November 1989 at

[2] Part VIII, B No 141 - Provision of care for a child already abroad, available at:


[4] These figures pertain to the time period of 01/01/2016-30/09/2020 as disclosed by the Home Office through a Freedom of Information request.

[5] Department for Education, Use of unregulated and unregistered provision for children in care

Research to understand the increase in use of unregulated and unregistered provision for children in care and care leavers, and concerns about quality, February 2020, p 6

[6] Department for Education Children looked after in England including adoptions, 2020

[7] See, for example, Baroness Berridge in Covid-19: Care System - Question: 8 Mar 2021: House of Lords debates and Vicky Ford MP in Asylum: Children - Question for Department for Education UIN 27597, tabled on 10 March 2020


[9] A children’s home in England is defined in section 1(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000 (CSA) as an establishment that “provides care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children”. By law unregulated accommodation can only provide children with ‘support’. Any establishments which provide children with ‘care’ and accommodation must register as children’s homes and be inspected by Ofsted.



[12] UN Committee General Comment 6 on the Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside their Country of Origin, para 35, at

[13] UNHCR, A Refugee And Then: Participatory Assessment of the Reception and Early Integration of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in the UK, June 2019, at:

[14] See for example, UNHCR, A Refugee And Then: Participatory Assessment of the Reception and

Early Integration of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in the UK, June 2019, at:; IOM and Coram, Mapping of existing training for family-based carers and professionals in the United Kingdom, 2018 at and European Agency for Fundamental Rights, Background note on ways to prevent unaccompanied migrant children from going missing, at

[15] Analysis of Local Authority costs incurred in support of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children in the East Midlands 2017 at

[16] ibid




[20] UNICEF, Education for refugee and asylum seeking children: Access and quality in England, Scotland and Wales, July 2018, at

[21] Chase, E. (2017) Health and Wellbeing, Becoming Adult Research brief no. 5: UCL

[22] UNHCR, A Refugee And Then: Participatory Assessment of the Reception and Early Integration of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in the UK, June 2019, at:

[23] Training provision could utilise the training modules already developed by the British Red Cross (see and IOM with Coram (see

[24] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Guardianship for children deprived of parental care: A handbook to reinforce guardianship systems to cater for the specific needs of child victims of trafficking, 2015: