27 Apr 2020

Thousands of European children in the UK care system risk becoming undocumented because no-one is making their application for settled status, according to The Children’s Society.

New research by the charity has found only eleven percent (11%)[1] of the identified European children, either in the British care system or who have recently left, have been awarded the right to stay in the UK via the EU Settlement Scheme. Additionally, thousands more may not have even been identified. 

Following Brexit, all European Economic Area (EEA) nationals who wish to stay in the UK have to apply for status through the scheme by 30 June 2021. Those that do not, risk losing their lawful status and could find themselves “undocumented” - and unable to access vital services, such as healthcare, education and benefits.

For children in care the responsibility of applying for status falls on the legal guardian or their council social worker. However, research by The Children’s Society found that despite the deadline approaching, many councils haven’t yet started to apply for the children in their care.

The Home Office has estimated that there are around 9,000 EEA looked after children and care leavers in the UK, however there could be many more. The government committed to surveying local authorities to discover the true number, but hasn’t yet published the findings. 

Given the lack of accurate data, The Children’s Society put in freedom of information requests1 to local authorities to try and identify the extent of the issue. The results indicate a worrying situation, both in low numbers of identified EU national looked after children and care leavers and the even lower rates of those granted status.

153 local authorities[2] were able to provide information, from that only 3,612 EEA children were identified across the UK, including at least a minimum[3] of 1,794 children for whom the state or local authority has parental responsibility.

Since the introduction of the EUSS scheme in March 2019, just 730 applications have been made for this group of vulnerable children and young people.[4] Of these only 404 have received status – 282 settled and 122 pre-settled. This means only 11% of those identified have been awarded status and more than 2,500 are still to apply – though the number of EEA looked after children or care leavers who need to apply is likely to be much higher.

Some of the main issues when applying to the scheme include:

  • Children in care and care leavers may be unaware they need to apply for settled status.
  • These young people might assume the council or government will take care of it for them.
  • Looked after children and care leavers will often have complex cases. They may be in care because of neglect or abuse and therefore cannot access the required identity documents without having to contact the potentially abusive or harmful family member.
  • Their parents may lead chaotic lives and struggle with issues like substance misuse or be victims of domestic abuse.
  • Their parents may not be in the country and so once again obtaining the correct documents may prove difficult or even impossible.
  • For children who are looked after by local authorities, social workers are incredibly stretched and do not have the capacity needed.
  • Social workers are not immigration advisors, few have the specialist knowledge required and should not be given the burden of supporting children with complex migration issues.
  • Local authorities cannot make applications on behalf of care leavers, but they can show them where and how to apply.


Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said:

“The numbers of EU children in care who have secured settled or pre-settled status is alarmingly low. These children will already have faced numerous hardships and challenges.  As a child in care their local authority has a responsibility to be looking out for the child’s best interests and ensuring they have the legal right the stay in the country they call home is part of that. However, these numbers show just how much work still needs to be done to prevent them from becoming undocumented and facing further instability and uncertainty in their lives.

“With councils being pulled in multiple directions in response to the coronavirus crisis, clearly more help is required. This government must show a willingness to compromise, we want to see the Home Office grant automatic status to all European looked after children and care leavers.”

The charity has produced a set of guidelines to help local authorities.


Media enquiries 

For more information, please contact The Children’s Society’s media team on 0207 8414422 or email charlie.neal@childrenssociety.org.ukFor out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796508


Notes to editors

  • The Children’s Society is a national charity that works with the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We listen. We support. We act. Because no child should feel alone.

[1] Data collected up to 6 Jan 2020
[2] We sent FOI requests to 211 Local authorities, of which 26 did not respond. Of this 185 who responded, 32 were unable to provide us with information because they were unable to retrieve or find the data or did not hold the data in a reportable format, implying a worrying lack of oversight
[3] Many Authorities gave responses in ranges, as low numbers meant there was a fear individuals could be identified by the data. For the statistics provided within this briefing, we took the mid-point of the range for our calculations.
[4] A number of applications may have been made for non-EU/EEA/Swiss looked after children through an EU/EEA/Swiss family member.