County council seeks judicial review over ‘burden’ of caring for refugee children

KCC County Hall

By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay

Home Secretary Suella Braverman is to be challenged in the High Court over the burden placed on Kent County Council (KCC) in caring for child asylum refugees, LDRS can reveal.

The authority will argue the Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme (NTS), a voluntary agreement made between councils in England to ensure a fairer distribution of unaccompanied children across local authorities, is “inadequate”.

KCC says young asylum seekers arriving on Kent’s shores, many of whom will have come in small boats, are now placing a “wholly disproportionate strain on Kent’s Children Services”.

The council will claim it has worked to support the NTS but is to ask a judge for a judicial review. The case is likely to be heard in the next few weeks.

Despite KCC claiming it is struggling, the authority and the Home Office both face a separate legal challenge from a refugee charity claiming the council has “derogated” its obligation to the children.

An email sent to KCC members, and seen by LDRS, from KCC Deputy Leader Peter Oakford (pictured), and Sue Chandler, Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services, says: “You will all be aware of the considerable pressures placed on our Children’s Services and on the county generally as a result of the number of children arriving on the shores of Kent on an unaccompanied basis.

We have always been clear that this is a national and international issue which cannot be solved by Kent alone. Our organisation will work hard to prioritise the protection of these vulnerable young people within the resources that we have available.

“We have always accepted…that there is an incompatibility in balancing those interests, our resources and the obligations of the Children Act 1989 which does not adequately consider the realities of our current challenge.”

It adds: “However, given pressures and challenges elsewhere, have regrettably concluded that we must now ask a Court to determine what is reasonable…and the reality of the way in which the Home Office currently operates the scheme.

“I can confirm that KCC has now issued a claim for Judicial Review against the Secretary of State for the Home Department to sit alongside the other claims in this area (including one against the Council) currently being considered by the High Court.”

The email adds: “Whilst many children have successfully transferred to other local authorities under the NTS, its operation sadly remains inadequate.

“The wholly disproportionate strain on Kent’s Children Services continues to be overlooked. We must ensure that all UK local authorities, with capacity, share in the support of these children.

“This will ensure that KCC can continue to meet its statutory duty to receive new arrivals at Dover, while at the same time safely meeting our duty of care for them. Both the vulnerable young people and Kent residents deserve a robust, long-term solution.”

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking

Image by Madalin Calita

The claim against the council refers to an action by ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking). ECPAT UK claims “there is no legal basis” for KCC to “derogate” its duties and the Home Office has no authority to place more than 5,000 children in hotels.

The charity has taken on law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP who have instructed Richard Drabble KC from Landmark Chambers, Shu Shin Luh and Antonia Benfield from Doughty Street Chambers.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking), said: “This is a national child protection scandal that we cannot allow to continue.

“As a small charity concerned with the rights of some of the most vulnerable children subject to the very worst crimes, we have been left with no choice. Children have been harmed, children are missing, and children have been exploited.”

She added: “It is the shocking but inevitable consequence of Kent County Council abdicating their obligations with the sanction of the Home Office, which itself is operating outside of the law.

“It is clear the Home Office has no authority, power, or expertise to accommodate vulnerable children. It is abhorrent that instead of upholding the rights of all children, the government is seeking to legislate to seize powers under the Illegal Migration Bill.

“Our domestic law and our international obligations demand that children are treated without discrimination and in their best interests, regardless of who they are, where they came from or how they got here.

“The Children Act 1989, enshrined in law by a Conservative administration with cross-party support is the bedrock of our commitment to children and we will not allow it to be dismantled.”

“Despite evidence of the significant harm suffered by many unaccompanied children, the government has opted to entrench this discriminatory practice in law leaving traumatised and separated children without the protection to which they are entitled under the Children Act 1989 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This cannot and will not be tolerated.”


  1. The 1989 Children’s Act did not take local authority ‘looked after’ children into consideration when they were moving local children hundreds of miles out of area away from their family, friends and local connections in order to house migrants.

  2. This was alright until the last phrase .
    Successive governments privatised child care. Yes children from the social services area should remain in that area usually but not always. Refugee children should not be dumped in hotels where they are sitting targets for the traffickers Proper temporary accommodation staffed by trained social workers is the ideal solution.

  3. That didn’t happen though, did it Sparky? It’s cool that you’re super angry about desperate children being helped though (which has no impact on the other children being helped).

  4. Just read in todays newspaper that “Murals for children at asylum centre were erased on the orders of Immigration Minster Mr Jenrick!” These were murals of Micky Mouse, and other cartoon characters, which offended Jenrick, because they made the centre look too welcoming! I know Mr Jenrick, while your at it making children unwelcome, why don’t you get them to wear yellow stars on their chest too?

    Many years ago I was a volunteer with a charity helping asylum seekers when they arrived here, one way or another, and I will never forget the noise of happy children playing with toys they had never seen in their ruined lives before! So this is the true colours of mean minded Tory’s, paint over welcoming comic cartoons. Over to you Banksy!

  5. Nah Sparky, I’m saying that you’re lying.

    Not to mention that what you wrote is utter dribble. The 1989 act has nothing to do with the accommodation of unaccompanied children and there are very specific criteria required in order for a young person to be housed out of area.

    But those friends that you definitely have could tell you that!

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