Croydon is assessing whether it can continue to accept newly arrived asylum seeker children in to its care as it faces having to make tens of millions of pounds of cuts.
The council is looking at making £20million in savings to Children, Families and Education and Adult Social Care, which are both statutory services.
Croydon has been criticised by auditors Grant Thornton for structural deficits in the children’s and adult social care budgets which were not tackled for years and manifested in significant overspends at the end of each financial year.
In 2017, following an inadequate judgement from Ofsted – Children, Families and Education underwent a comprehensive improvement programme which led to a grading of ‘good’ in March 2020.
Over £50million of transformation monies were spent on adults and children’s services but significant issues still remain.
This includes the continued overspending and unresolved cost pressures especially the strain of the cost of looking after unaccompanied migrant children.
This is mainly due to the Home Office’s Lunar House Home Office immigration centre, which acts as a major UK entry point alongside Heathrow Airport and Dover, being located in the borough.
In April, the council welcomed new government investment of £4million towards the cost of caring for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. However, it is still not enough and now the council is facing having to make tough decisions.
Over the last decade Croydon has looked after more than 5,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). Up to 70 new UASC children arrive in Croydon each month; one of the most per head of population in a UK local authority. The difference between government funding and the actual cost has led to the council having a £9m shortfall each year since 2015.
The national voluntary agreement limits the number of unaccompanied children that local authorities take care of to 0.07 per cent of the child population. Based on the current 0-17 population in Croydon this would be around 66 children but the number of children cared for by the council has far exceeded the voluntary agreement for a number of years. In September 2020 there were 249 unaccompanied children in Croydon’s care, almost four times the voluntary agreement.
Moreover, as children reach 18 and leave care they are entitled to care leavers’ services and former unaccompanied children make up almost 60 per cent of Croydon’s current care leavers.
The financial strain on Croydon is significant and unsustainable, says the report, which adds: “A fresh approach that continues to fulfil statutory responsibilities as corporate parents whilst securing a fairer deal for Croydon is required.”
The outcomes of these actions and negotiations will inform decisions on: “Whether Croydon can continue to accept newly arrived children into its care
and …”will inform options to identify the capacity threshold for the numbers of unaccompanied children that can be safely cared for within the grant funding available.”
A number of actions are underway to achieve this including: a complete forensic review of grant income from the Home Office against the total expenditure for unaccompanied asylum seeking children and care leavers over the past three years.
This is being carried out with external support and challenge from the council’s retained financial consultants and will include the impact on the wider children’s services budget.
In recent months Kent and Portsmouth councils have also closed the doors to unaccompanied children.
Adult Social Care is similarly required to make £9.7million savings in 2021-22 mainly in health, wellbeing and adults department which includes Gateway services and provides support to residents on low incomes including a food scheme.