PRIVATE schools in Dorset could be asked to take on unaccompanied refugee children.
Dorset Council currently has 41 in its care and is having to accommodate eight out of ten of them outside the county because suitable places cannot be found locally.
Some have been moved to Croydon, Swindon, Gloucestershire and Southampton, often with foster carers although some are in residential children’s homes or, for some aged 16 or over, in supported accommodation.
Councillors heard of the private school idea this week for the first time, although they were told it would also need the back-up of supportive local families to take the children into their homes when the schools are not open, including over the long summer break.
Children’s services director Claire Shiels said that talks were being held between Dorset Council and the Department of Education and the Home Office to see if local independent schools could be used.
She admitted that sending so high a percentage out of Dorset for accommodation was not sustainable in the long run and the Dorset ‘target’ figure set by the Government for unaccompanied children and young people had now increased from 47 to 67.
The scrutiny committee meeting also heard that with Russian bombing of energy networks in Ukraine there could yet be another surge of refugees before the end of the winter, although in recent weeks very few arrived.
Dorset residents are currently hosting 800 refugees, including 300 children, with more than a hundred host families standing by, should they be needed.
Around seventy per cent of the existing host families have said they will carry on beyond the initial six months they agreed to, with around 60 ‘guests’ so far having to be found new places to stay, some with other host families, some in bed and breakfast and others moving to private rented accommodation.
Cllr Robin Cooke said if more refugees were to arrive in Dorset thought ought to be given to the geographical suitability of places. He said that in his Stour and Allen Vale ward one refugee had asked to be moved to a new host because of the problems of living in a rural area with few facilities and a lack of bus services.
Cllr Cooke said many Dorset residents in rural areas had been, and continued to be, willing to offer a place in their homes, but said that it might not always be the best location for everyone.
Children’s services director Claire Shiels said the situation was not unusual and there had been other, similar cases.
She said that to help host families who were willing to continue and to take into account rising costs, payments to them would go up from £350 a month, to £600, with help also available specifically for fuel bills, although many people were already saying that they did not want, or need, to make a claim.
Ms Shiels said the county was in a sustainable position to continue to deliver help to Ukraine refugees and, for the moment, was able to finance the support, assisted by a £10,500 Government payment for every person who arrives.