Sheffield struggles to take in child refugees amid budget cuts

Sue Pearson presented the petition with children from Sheffield Youth Equality Group
Sue Pearson presented the petition with children from Sheffield Youth Equality Group

Campaigners want Sheffield to become a home for unaccompanied child refugees – but council bosses say there is not enough money or foster families to help.

Sue Pearson, who came to the city 80 years ago as an 11-year-old Czechoslovakia refugee, presented a petition to Sheffield’s full council.

Mrs Pearson was part of the Kindertransport, an organised rescue effort before the outbreak of the Second World War. The UK took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The petition asks the council to welcome 10 child refugees per year, over the next 10 years.

Sheffield was one of just seven local authorities which helped rehome child refugees recently. The city has taken in 40 over the past 18 months, including ones from Calais, but severe budget cuts and a lack of foster families is making it increasingly difficult.

Mrs Pearson presented the 695 name petition with a group of Westbourne and Silverdale school pupils from the Sheffield Youth Equality Group.

She said: “I am very much aware of the financial constraints of the city council but also of its long record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers to this City of Sanctuary.

“I was on the Kindertransport nearly 80 years ago and I was able to enjoy the hospitality and warmth of Sheffield.

“The Kindertransport took 10 months. Over that time, the British rescued 10,000 children and families opened their homes to these children. This was a much poorer Britain but it happened. I have lived here ever since and I consider myself very fortunate.

“The need for children to flee from serious danger has not diminished. These children have no choice to leave their families, friends and countries. Over 20,000 unaccompanied children have arrived in Europe and are still living on the streets or in unsafe camps in appalling conditions. It’s our turn to resettled these children.”

Coun Jackie Drayton, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “Eighteen months ago, Kent Council had so many unaccompanied children arriving, they wrote asking other local authorities if they could take some of these children. They were overwhelmed, they were getting thousands of children.

“Sheffield was one of only seven that replied and said yes. We also accepted children from the camp at Calais when that was disbanded. We have taken over 40 children in the last 18 months but it’s very difficult.

“We are under financial constraints and have seen a rise in children coming into care. For every child you have to provide a home but unfortunately the cost of that is very expensive and we don’t have enough homes so there is a massive recruitment drive for foster carers.

“We have had out budget cut for children and young people. Every one of us would welcome these children but it’s very important that the Government takes responsibility as well and gives councils the finances to support them.”