Agenda item

Impact of asylum changes on children in Leeds

To consider a report from the Director of Children and Families setting out how recent changes to the asylum system have impacted children in Leeds.


The report from the Director of Children and Families set out how recent changes to the asylum system in the UK has impacted children in Leeds.

The following were in attendance for this item:

  • Farrah Khan, Chief Officer Family Help
  • Patsy Burrows, Head of Service Corporate Parenting
  • Sara Townend, Principal Legal Officer
  • Jonathan Nevill, Service Delivery Manager
  • Councillor Pryor, Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education
  • Councillor Venner, Executive Member for Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships


Councillor Venner, Executive Member for Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships introduced the report highlighting the particular impact of recent changes on Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC). These children often arrive in Leeds having experienced significant trauma, in some cases having escaped difficult, inhumane conditions and very difficult journeys to arrive in the United Kingdom. This means that they often present in Leeds with very complex needs and mental health challenges. A further challenge relates to the age at which young people arrive in Leeds, typically aged 16/17 years old meaning that they often very quickly become care leavers and are at an age where finding placements in foster care can be difficult due to availability of suitable places.


The Executive Member also highlighted some funding challenges linked to meeting the needs of UASC both in Leeds and nationally with a particular impact on border area councils such as Kent. In addition, there are problems associated with age assessments for UASC arriving in the country. This has led to young people being wrongly identified as an adult and subsequently being placed in inappropriate provision. 30 out of 35 UASC who were referred for further assessment due to concerns about the accuracy of age assessments were then identified as being a child or young person.


Despite this Leeds delivers positive work in this area an example highlighted by Cllr Venner was the ‘Cooked with Love’ project which saw the creation of a cookbook through a joint project between the Council and British Library containing recipes from the UASC young people that have arrived in the city. The book will live in the British Library forever and is provided to all UASC that arrive in Leeds.


Responding to question from members the following discussion points were raised:

  • In terms of age assessments and UASC being wrongly identified as adults, the board were informed that the age assessment carried out in the ports in Kent are not as detailed as those carried out in Leeds. Following identification of an individual who may be under 18 through welfare assessment in the hotels used in Leeds, a ‘Merton Assessment’ is carried out promptly, often within days of arriving in Leeds. This is a full assessment which can lead to a more accurate picture of age being determined. This can be time consuming and involve several appointments with appropriately qualified social workers and interpreters these can take between 6 and 8 weeks to finalise. There are no additional costs associated with this other than the use of officer time. It was also noted that age assessments do not feature medical assessments.
  • The Board also heard a legal view on age assessments and the potential for challenge when an age assessment is made, potentially through Judicial Review. There have been examples of this in Leeds usually relating to those assessed as being over 18 who have sought to challenge that.
  • Support available to UASC arriving in Leeds was an area of interest for board members. UASC receive a welcome meeting which is funded through Department of Health and Social Care funding this means that professionals meet the new arrivals provide a welcome pack and also put them in touch with other UASC and the networks that are available. The UASC groups and networks are often led by UASC who have become care leavers and who are able to pass on their knowledge and experiences to new arrivals. Many of the new arrivals are Muslims so appropriate faith related support is provided such as the provision of prayer mats. Welfare assessments in terms of health checks are also provided through looked after children nurse appointments.
  • In addition, there is now a thriving football team for UASC who have been successful winning a cup and achieving promotion last season. This can involve as many as 50 UASC and care leavers supported by staff and wider volunteers.
  • In terms of countries where the most UASC arrive from these were listed as Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and a small number from Chad.
  • The Board was interested in how protected characteristics are dealt with and how that impacts the approach to newly arrived UASC. This has not yet been requested by any new arrivals, but it was accepted that more work is required in this area to see if there are any additional services or support that can be provided. It was noted that work on integration into the city and identity is part of the approach taken by the team in Leeds.
  • In term so the type of accommodation that UASC use in Leeds the Board were informed that typically UASC are housed in supported lodgings which is a family home but is not a foster placement and semi-independent living. On the latter this is a mature type of accommodation aimed at groups of UASC over the age of 16 who live in supported group settings. UASC under the age of 16 live in foster placements and this offer can be extended to those over 16 who have additional or more complex needs that would be better supported through living in a family home.
  • The Board were interested in forced removals which form part of the Illegal Immigration Act (July 2023). As yet the implications of this new legislation have not been felt in Leeds. For those UASC that become care leavers they are supported by Personal Assistants in the same way as all care leavers. Given the possible impact of legislation the service is trying to ascertain the legal status of UASC before they turn 18 to provide more certainty for them about their status and potential to stay in the UK.
  • The Board were also interested in support and access to education for UASC. All Looked After Children have an education plan which is personal to them and will also be supported by social workers to identify additional support requirements. In addition, there are some schools in Leeds that have a strong approach to diversity and welcoming young people from diverse communities and backgrounds.
  • The Board were also interested in UASC who were younger than the most common age group 16-17.5. These are relatively uncommon with two arrivals in the past year with these often being ‘sent’ by family members in their home countries and arriving at Leeds Bradford Airport. These arrivals have typically experienced challenging circumstances in their home settings.




a)  Scrutiny noted and endorsed this update report.


Supporting documents: