The council’s lead member for specialist children’s services Jenny Whittle has asked officers at the authority to draw up plans for a secure accommodation unit where children would have their mobile phones confiscated and be detained for up to six weeks.
The move is intended to stop children falling prey to traffickers, because 26 out of 105 unaccompanied children in the council’s care disappeared last year.
“This would be for children who we believe are most at risk of trafficking,” Whittle said. “What I envisage is for them to be placed in a rural setting where they would have access to independent legal representation, a cultural advocate and a buddy, who would be a young person who has also been an unaccompanied minor coming to this country.”
But Rachel Knowles, community care solicitor at Just for Kids Law, argued that the proposals are illegal and immoral.
“There is provision in section 25 of the Children Act to place children in secure accommodation for their protection if they repeatedly abscond or if they are a threat to others, but that is only for 72 hours without a court order,” she said.
“After that time a court order must be sought and the law is clear that this should only be in exceptional circumstances. Legally the council can’t make a blanket decision to do this for up to six weeks.
“There is also a moral issue. We know that detention is extremely detrimental to children who are arriving here under very difficult circumstances.”
Ilona Pinter, policy adviser at The Children’s Society, said a more effective way of protecting unaccompanied children from traffickers would be to place them with specialist foster carers, with whom they can build up trust.
“The councillor has said that this is to protect the children from traffickers, but if you detain them then they are not going to feel protected, they are going to feel frustrated and like they are being punished,” she said.