A local council says it cannot provide the necessary care for vulnerable children in its area due to rising numbers of unaccompanied young people seeking asylum and a “wholly inadequate” scheme to distribute them to authorities across the country.
Kent County Council is responsible for 661 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, along with 1,030 care leavers.
However, it claims 489 new arrivals had been referred to them in the past month alone, compared to just 136 children being sent to other local authorities.
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Council leader Roger Gough and children’s services boss Sue Chandler said the “escalating arrivals” on the county’s shores, coupled with the failures of the National Transfer Scheme (NTS), meant the council had “once again been forced into the position of being unable to meet both its statutory duties to care for every unaccompanied child newly arriving or already resident in Kent, and care for them safely, and discharge all of its other duties towards vulnerable children and young people in Kent”.
The comments came as the prime minister again spoke of his plan to deal with small boat crossings in the Channel was “working”, as the number of people making the journey approached 20,000 for the year so far – down from 25,040 at the same time in 2022.
“This year, for the first time since the small boats crisis emerged, the numbers crossing are down,” Rishi Sunak said. “It’s important for people to understand that.
“This year for the first time the numbers of people crossing are lower than the year before. That hasn’t happened before. That shows that the plan is working.
“Of course, there’s more to do, but I want people to have confidence that we are on it, and we’ll keep going.”
Last month, a High Court judge ruled that Kent County Council was acting unlawfully in failing to accommodate and look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The judge said: “Neither Kent County Council nor the home secretary knows where these children are, or whether they are safe or well. There is evidence that some have been persuaded to join gangs seeking to exploit them for criminal purposes.
“These children have been lost and endangered here, in the United Kingdom. They are not children in care who have run away. They are children who, because of how they came to be here, never entered the care system in the first place and so were never ‘looked after’.”
The judge added: “Ensuring the safety and welfare of children with no adult to look after them is among the most fundamental duties of any civilised state.”
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More than 100,000 people have crossed Channel since records began
But the council leaders said: “We are not able to deal with this international issue alone without a properly managed and effective NTS [National Transfer Scheme].
“This continues to have significant implications for our county and all children and young people who require services under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, whether they arrive as asylum seekers or already reside in Kent.”
According to the PA news agency, the government extended funding incentives of £6,000 for transfers from Kent County Council to other local authorities within five days until the end of 2023 to 2024 after the ruling.
A government spokesperson said: “The safety and welfare of all children is our utmost priority. We are working closely with Kent County Council to help them fulfil their legal duty.
“Significant work is also under way to increase placement capacity and to make sure local authorities fulfil their statutory duty to accommodate unaccompanied children nationwide.”