EU children in UK care system could become 'undocumented' adults, charity warns

Thousands of children of EU citizens who have been taken into care may become “undocumented” adults with no right to work, rent a home or receive benefits, a charity has warned.

The Children’s Society has found that just 39% of children in care, or young adults who have recently left care, have had applications to remain in the country after Brexi made on their behalf. It says this is “unacceptable” and that councils across the UK need to work urgently to identify EU citizens in their care.

With just three months to go before the deadline expires for the right to apply for settled status, the charity fears many vulnerable young people may unknowingly find themselves living in the UK unlawfully.

Under the new immigration laws, this could mean they lose the right to work, claim financial support from the government, rent a home, hold a bank account or access further education, and could even face deportation.

The charity is now calling for the Home Office to commit to accepting all out-of-time applications for looked-after children and care leavers and to protect their status in the interim.

“We are very concerned, not only that so many children are yet to have applications made for them, but that no one seems to know exactly how many children could be affected,” said Children’s Society chief executive Mark Russell.

He said the onus was on councils and the Home Office to identify every child and young person who needs to apply and ensure that they do so in time.

The charity says the children in care have “already faced huge adversity in their lives” and being taken into care is “often very traumatic” and “years more trauma and distress could be just around the corner if they become undocumented”.

Asked who was to blame for the low application rate, Marieke Widmann, the charity’s policy and practice adviser, said the Home Office would point to the millions of people who have already applied for settled status, but that it simply was “not straightforward for everyone”.

Lei ha aggiunto: “Children in care and care leavers will often have complicated cases and applications and with children in care they are relying on their social worker or legal guardian to apply for them. Care leavers are supposed to be supported by the council to ensure they make an application.”

The situation, lei disse, was complicated by the fact that sometimes local authorities do not have always have all the documents they need to make an application, such as passports and evidence of living in the UK.

“It can be really tough for them to get these documents having come into care because of difficult family circumstances, like neglect or abuse," lei disse. The closure or scaling back of embassy offices often compounds the matter.

Russell added that no child should face being undocumented, “but it seems thousands of EU children, who are supposed to be in the care of their local authority, could very soon face this cliff edge. This is simply unacceptable.”

Research by Coram Children’s Legal Centre in 2019 warned that these vulnerable children risked becoming a new “Windrush generation”.

A Home Office survey between July and November 2020 identified 3,300 looked-after children and care leavers as eligible to apply for the EUSS – about 300 fewer than identified in the latest Children’s Society research.

A child in care’s legal guardian or council social worker must apply to the EU settlement scheme (EUSS) on their behalf, while local authorities must practically support or signpost care leavers who are under 25 to make their application.

But the Children’s Society said this does not appear to be happening. Progress over the last year has been slow and there is still uncertainty around how many children need to apply.

Through freedom of information requests, the charity found that just 1,426 applications had been made by councils responsible for 3,690 bambini. Just over 1,000 of these had been processed at time of publication, con 838 children obtaining settled status – granted to those who have been in the UK for five years or more – and 189 granted “pre-settled status”, for those in the UK for less than five years.

The Children’s Society said it was “doubtful” that all eligible children and care leavers had been identified.

The minister for future borders and immigration, Kevin Foster, said the government was “determined to ensure all eligible children and care leavers secure their status” and that it was working closely with charities and local authorities and had been in touch with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

“Rightly, our focus is on encouraging applications before the 30 June deadline, but we will soon be publishing guidance on reasonable grounds for late applications, which will include looked-after children and care leavers where the local authority or parent or guardian failed to apply for them," Egli ha detto.

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