Page last updated at 02:13 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Child asylum seeker numbers rise in West Midlands

by Nick Lawrence
BBC Inside Out, West Midlands

UK immigration staff
Many child asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, because of the conflict

The number of children arriving alone in the West Midlands seeking asylum has risen by almost 700% in six years.

Freedom of Information requests to councils across the West Midlands revealed in 2002 there were 42 children needing care. In 2008 there were 306.

Birmingham City Council said child asylum seekers put strains on its budget, and the government had not provided enough funds.

The government said it had met most funding claims made by the council.

Anne Botting, from specialist foster agency Pathway Care, told the BBC's Inside Out programme there had been an increase in teenage boys arriving from Afghanistan due to the conflict taking place there.

"And it fits in with wherever the conflict is in the world… you see an upsurge in the referrals from that country," she said.

The difficulties in finding care for the children is further compounded by the traumatised state in which they often arrive in the country, she added.

The 2008 figures show Birmingham has 85 child asylum seekers in local authority care. Twenty-two of these are in foster care.

Councillor Les Lawrence
Councillor Les Lawrence said Birmingham was owed up to 1m

Birmingham city councillor Les Lawrence, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said Birmingham was owed up to £1m in specialists grants by the UK Border Agency.

"We certainly are owed approaching between half and one million pounds and that means we are having to bear within our budgets at the current time," he said.

"And with all the other additional pressures that means we have to find that money through efficiency savings elsewhere."

Nationally, he said he believed local authorities were owed between £15 and £20m in unpaid grants from central government.

Gail Adams, UK Border Agency regional director, said she disputed that claim.

"With the exception of a small number of claims, all claims by Birmingham City Council for looking after unaccompanied asylum seeking children have been met in full by the UK Border Agency," she said.

"We recognise that the subject of unaccompanied asylum seeking children is a very complex and emotive issue, and the welfare of minors is of paramount importance to the UK Border Agency."

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