A charity has warned that thousands of children in care originally from countries who are still members of the EU could find themselves with no legal status in the UK because of Brexit.
According to The Children’s Society, only around 39% of identified EU children, who have either been taken into care or are leaving care, have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS).
Those who haven’t applied to the scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021 may unknowingly find themselves living in the UK unlawfully.
For children in care, the responsibility of applying for status falls on their legal guardian or their council social worker. For care leavers under 25, local authorities must work to ensure they have secured status.
Freedom of information requests issued to all local authorities between September 2020 and February 2021 revealed that many councils and social workers are yet to start the application process for children in their care.
From the 175 councils who were able to provide information, 3,690 looked after children and care leavers were identified as needing to apply to the EUSS. Of those, 1,426 applications (39%) have been submitted and only 1,027 (28%) of these children and young people have secured status, 838 getting settled and 189 receiving pre-settled status.
The Children’s Society is calling for more to be done to protect this group of children.
Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: ‘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.
‘No child should ever have to face the uncertainty and limbo that comes with 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.
‘These are children who have already faced huge adversity in their lives, being taken into care is often very traumatic, yet years more trauma and distress could be just around the corner if they become undocumented.
‘That is why it’s vital councils and the Home Office work hard to identify every child and care leaver that needs to go through this process and ensure social workers and all those involved have the knowledge and understanding to ensure these applications are made in time.’
Responding to the report, Baroness Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said: ‘Councils continue to support children who are in or leaving care through the EU Settlement Scheme where appropriate.
‘However, the impact of the current pandemic on capacity across councils, the legal system, embassies and the organisations providing outreach needs to be considered.
‘Vulnerable groups unable to complete the EU Settlement Scheme may be given some flexibility and it will be important to identify well in advance those who may need support to access the scheme after the deadline.’