I’m proud of Bedford council’s care of traumatised asylum-seeker children, says social worker
A senior Bedford Borough Council officer said he was “proud” of how the council supports refugee and unaccompanied asylum seeking children in its care.
Harmesh Bhogal, chief officer for children’s services (chief social worker) told Monday’s Children’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee (September 5) thatlocal authorities have a statutory duty to safeguard unaccompanied and separated children.
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“The national transfer scheme was made mandatory in November 21 and requires each local authority to accept transfers from the main ports, or wherever children and young people are coming in,” he said.
“This is a legal obligation to ensure that each local authority gets a fair distribution.
“It’s really important to note that these children have suffered the trauma of conflict or travelled huge distances, extremely dangerous distances, and areseparated from families,” he said.
“So some of them are extremely traumatised, and we have to make sure that the support that they require is in place.
“Understandably a lot of these children are really desperate to make contact with their families again.
“We work with the Red Cross for family tracing and obviously we will put whatever therapeutic support we can in place for them.
“The majority of these children and young people don’t speak English when they arrive and so there are all sorts of barriers in addition to the trauma thatthey’ve experienced.
“I’m really proud of how our teams work with them, because they really do take the time, care and attention to make sure that support is in place,” he said.
Committee chair, councillor Jane Walker (Conservative, Clapham) said: “The talk in the media is all about the people coming over in boats.
“Are any of those unaccompanied children,” she asked.
Mr Bhogal replied: “Yes, and that’s part of the reason why they’ve increased [the numbers on] the national transfer scheme.”
The ceiling for Bedford borough recently increased from 28 to 41.
Cllr Walker asked how young these children are.
Mr Bhogal said: “They can be as young as five, sometimes younger.
“Sometimes babies are given to people who transport them across.”
This, Cllr Walker said this was “terrifying”. She then spoke about a visit a couple of years ago to meet some young refugees.
“The ones that could speak to us – all they wanted to do was education and that’s why they were coming here.
“It was quite humbling that something that we perhaps take a little bit for granted they were desperate to get.
“So it’s good that we have all these things in process to look after them when they’re here,” she said.
Mr Bhogal added: “Give them the opportunity and they grasp it.
“And regardless of the barriers in terms of language, being separated, or whatever, they will take those opportunities, and we certainly support them to do so,” he said.
Children’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee 5/9/22 via YouTube livestream