Stockport Council: Taking a strategic approach to supporting increasing numbers of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children

Stockport proactively and strategically responded to the introduction of the mandatory National Transfer Scheme (NTS) in July 2022 in readiness to meet the demands of caring for increasing numbers of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC). Stockport have worked in partnership to redesign their processes, including efficiently managing referrals, finding placements swiftly, and upskilling their teams.

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Stockport Council proactively and strategically responded to the introduction of the mandatory National Transfer Scheme (NTS) in July 2022 in readiness to meet the demands of caring for increasing numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC).  Stockport have worked in partnership to redesign their processes, including efficiently managing referrals, finding placements swiftly, and upskilling their teams. This has allowed them to apply their relational and restorative practice approach to develop a shared understanding and relationships with providers and stakeholders, resulting in more efficient and effective way of working. This has helped to achieve the right people working together from the start to secure the best outcomes for these young people as they move into adulthood.

The challenge

Unaccompanied children coming to the North West of England previously tended to move to the larger cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. This meant caseload numbers in areas such as Stockport were relatively low and inconsistent. Since the introduction of the mandatory NTS these levels have increased and are likely to continue to do so as the area is under threshold (meaning they will regularly be allocated UASC through the NTS).

To be able to deliver a timely response to securing permanence for UASC, often with limited information about the child’s needs, the team realised that their existing processes and practices needed to be reviewed. They also identified a need to have further training to develop expertise on supporting UASC within their teams, to be more efficient in their response to UASC referrals, and be able to accommodate children in the most timely and suitable ways for their need to achieve permanence.

This required specific changes to be made to their existing processes and practice, but they felt it was hugely important to do this in line with their approach which is built on restorative practice, strong communication and relational practice

The solution

Stockport went about addressing their challenge based on their local strategic approach.

They engaged key practitioners to share a common understanding and practice for efficiently managing UASC referrals to achieve timely placements for unaccompanied children that meet their needs and provide permanence. This involved; social worker practitioners, children’s commissioners, the fostering service, supported lodgings and placements teams all coming together to agree shared understandings, processes and practices to better meet the needs of UASC and how this would be underpinned by good communication and a restorative practice approach.   

Previously, in line with all referrals to the team, approval for placement searching was required at different stages and levels of authority in line with financial delegations. The team realised this was causing delay and agreed a twin-track approach for placement searching for UASC to be able to achieve the placement within the five-day Home Office timescales which also resulted in the council receiving a financial incentive for timely placements.  

It was agreed that all UASC referrals would require section 20 accommodation, would be signed off by the director and would need to result in timely and permanent accommodation. Therefore their system is now that as soon as a referral is received the team leader notifies all relevant professionals with a single referral form. This means that commissioning, placement, fostering, health, education, MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub) and police all know that a new unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is going to be moved into the area. The process of making arrangements for this can then begin immediately.

“Everyone has an immediate heads up that we need to get together and plan for this child." Team leader.

All of the provider services are under the same line management. The social work teams are integrated with health and education services and co-located with the police. The area also hosts a regular local provider forum. All of this helps support the conversations and information-sharing across professionals to develop the best support for unaccompanied children. Professionals have a shared understanding about the role of others and what they can provide to children to ensure their needs are met. Processes for supporting UASC and working collaboratively are being constantly refined, based on each experience, by the steering group that oversees and monitors the strategy and support to UASC.

The team also decided not to establish a separate UASC team. Feedback suggested that social workers preferred a mixed caseload, and that a UASC-only caseload could be very demanding and lead to burn-out, resulting in retention and recruitment issues. Allocations of incoming UASC are therefore done by rota. This means that all staff have to have skills and knowledge to support UASC. The team has developed several members of the team who have more experience and specific UASC knowledge. They are used as a practitioner to refer to and can support other team members.

However, the majority of the specialist training and knowledge sharing comes from the regional network.

The North West regional coordinator runs a successful local team leader meeting. Attendees share updates on key issues and challenges, and shared development points. It is seen by attendees as an engaging problem-solving forum and an ideal way to share good practice across leaders. From this the coordinator secured regional funding to start delivering training sessions for other team members. This means that any staff new to working with UASC can access regular training on the basic issues – introduction to UASC, use of interpreters, age assessments – as well as one-off events on more specific and in-depth issues, such as access to legal support, triple planning and post-18 support.

This supports a shared knowledge across team members, without pulling on in-house training capacity. It also provides an ongoing support network for those working with UASC.

Having a well-informed team and strong working partnerships with other teams and stakeholders has allowed other aspects of the process to develop. Relationships and understanding built with providers means that the team can make better placement decisions and matches for UASC. This includes being able to come up with innovative solutions. When three young male UASC fed back that children’s homes placements were not ideal for them, the council repurposed three starter flats it had in its provision, allowing the young men much more appropriate semi-independent living and a cultural community.

The issue of UASC not securing their leave to remain before they turn 18 is another issue Stockport has managed to find a solution to with their providers. Those aged over 18 with no leave to remain cannot apply for local housing or housing benefit. However, 16/17-year-old supported accommodation providers are working with the council to extend placements to over 18s in this interim period (until they receive leave to remain) which the council continues to fund.

Likewise, the social work teams work closely with the leaving care team and are able to start building relationships with them and UASC from 16 years of age. The leaving care team has received two additional personal advisers to respond to the increasing numbers of care leavers to ensure it has sufficient funding and resources to support those UASC throughout their transition to adulthood, underpinned by a relational and restorative practice approach throughout.

The impact

  • UASC transfers are consistently being achieved within five days.
  • Accommodation matches are more appropriate based on relationships between team and providers with access and support from interpreters and key specialist practitioners such as health, education and police.
  • The staff team is stable and skills and expertise are shared across them.
  • Social workers consider the range of placement offers received to discuss with the unaccompanied child to secure the best placement to meet their needs.

Lessons learned

The team in Stockport felt strongly from early on in their journey that it was not going to possible to provide tailored, appropriate, suitable support for the increasing numbers and demands of UASC without additional resource in their team.

A shared business case was presented to the council’s senior leaders clearly setting out the forecasted demand for year one and year two and requirement for additional staffing to respond to this need:

Year one:

  • One social worker post.
  • One personal adviser post.
  • One supported lodgings coordinator.

Year two:

  • Extension to above posts plus additional.
  • One personal adviser.
  • 0.5 independent reviewing officer.

The business case was approved and additional resources enabled them to respond to meet the increasing UASC needs.

The council also secured funding from the Department for Education staying close programme and included within their bid specific resource to support UASC with wraparound and intensive support.

The team believe this additional funding was essential. They could not have found the required capacity without it and would recommend others set out their strategic requirements in a business case.

The team can make sensible predictions of increasing numbers of UASC over the coming years and will continue to review their need for additional resource within the steering group.

The other clear lesson from this area is about the effect of having good communications, effective working relationships with all stakeholders and clear, well understood processes that everyone can follow that are kept under review and refined based on lessons learnt. Partnership is seen as key to getting effective early intervention for UASC which it is known can improve their outcomes and life chances.