A desperate situation in Kent will be made worse by the introduction of the government’s new 14-day Quarantine Regulations for all new arrivals into the UK, says the County Council
The new regulations come into force on June 8 but make no separate provision for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC). This means Kent County Council (KCC) will have to isolate all new UAS children for two weeks but with the authority says with resources already exhausted this will be difficult to achieve.
Roger Gough, Leader of Kent County Council said:“As always, the health and well-being of children in our care is our foremost priority and I am again appealing to the Home Office to intervene.
“We are seeking to respond to the new regulations and discharge our responsibilities, however, with extremely limited resources left the expectation is that we will no longer be able to accommodate any further new arrivals within four weeks.”
Under the 1989 Children Act, KCC is responsible for all UAS children arriving on Kent shores and has seen record-breaking numbers so far this year, with 65 arriving in May, the highest number in five years, and 17 already in the first four days of June.
KCC is currently caring for a total of 482 under 18s UAS children, more than double the allocation for the authority in the current voluntary National Transfer Scheme. Kent is also responsible for 936 over 18s UAS young people who, under current legislation, will remain in the council’s care until they are 25.
Costs to care for these children are currently £200,000 per month, and rising, in excess of the funding provided by central government.
With all four UASC reception centres in Kent now full, the council was able to refit and bring into use additional accommodation for nine children but the arrival of 16 new UAS children on June 3 has already filled this and it is estimated that it would take up to three months to secure additional suitable premises.
To abide by the new Quarantine Regulations, the council now has to ‘double-up’ children in rooms, breaching Public Health England social distancing guidelines and putting them at risk of infection. This will vacate one 40-bed reception centre to provide single rooms to isolate new arrivals for two weeks but it is possible with the current arrival rates that this limited capacity could quickly be filled.
In his letter to the Home Secretary appealing for intervention sent on May 22, Mr. Gough stated that UAS children care resources in Kent had “run out of road”.
He said without immediate intervention and the urgent reactivation of the National Transfer Scheme to fairly distribute UAS children nationally, including sufficient funding for receiving local authorities, the situation in Kent would become “unimaginable and unsafe for children”.
While still awaiting a response to this appeal, KCC and the Local Government Association have continued to petition other UK local authorities and have received some assistance with agreements in place to take a total of nine children so far.
Cllr Gough said:“This unthinkable position is not one we want to find ourselves in but without immediate intervention from central government the only resolution available to the council is the Mutual Aid Provision of the 1989 Children Act which allows the council to seek support from other local authorities. But this protracted process will not provide the help we need now.
“The quickest solution would be to raise the UAS children Care Leavers Rate, which is currently significantly less than care costs incurred by local authorities, to incentivise other UK councils to bear some of the burden. This is essential to getting the National Transfer Scheme working again.
“The new quarantine regulations, coming at a time of a rapid increase in new arrivals, are pouring petrol on the fire. What we need is for central government to support local authorities in resolving this crisis immediately.”