Just seven local authorities look after 43% of lone children seeking asylum in England, according to new research.
The University of Brighton said this was ‘overloading’ social workers and exacerbating the poor treatment they receive from arrival onwards.
Researchers said unaccompanied child asylum seekers faced a ‘hostile and interrogatory’ reception, often facing ‘confusing and repetitive’ questioning by immigration officers who fail to ensure appropriate adults are present.
Having a small number of councils dealing with more than two-fifths of children was resulting in them receiving limited legal representation, less chance of foster care and delays to accessing education.
The research concluded the UK’s asylum process as a whole was ‘contrary to the child’s best interests’.
Jo Wilding, research fellow at the university's Centre for Research on Management and Employment, said: ‘Unaccompanied migrant children are entitled to protection under domestic legislation and international agreements, the most universally accepted of which is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
‘We hope this report will improve understanding about the best interests of children and provide a solid basis for proper implementation of the principle in practice.’