By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
Kent County Council (KCC) is now so overwhelmed by the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) it may have to stop taking any more local youngsters into care.
A recent High Court ruling says the authority must carry on accepting all youngsters seeking asylum despite its pleas it cannot cope with the demand.
Now, after a recent surge in arrivals to the UK, KCC claims it has reached a new “unthinkable” crisis point of having to consider a halt to taking in Kent referrals.
The council has long contested the Home Office-agreed National Transfer Scheme (NTS), which is meant to disperse young asylum seekers to other local authorities, simply does not work effectively.
Last month, the council took legal action against the Home Office and the Home Secretary Suella Braverman to challenge the NTS and seek more assistance.
But the High Court has rejected the judicial review saying KCC must adhere to its statutory duty under the Children’s Act 1989 to accept every new UASC arrival, which numbers around 4,500 a year.
The authority claims it now has so many young people seeking asylum on its books, it has run out of capacity to carry out its statutory Section 20 obligations to other, local children.
According to a statement issued last night (August 25) to members and seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, KCC is currently caring for 661 UASC and 1,030 UASC care leavers.
Sue Chandler, the cabinet member for children’s services, wrote: “Since the judgement four weeks ago, 489 newly arrived UAS children have been referred into Kent’s Children’s Services. This far exceeds the total number of referrals into most other UK local authorities’ Children’s Services in a year.”
Only 136 have gone elsewhere under the NTS, she said.
Cllr Chandler claimed: “Therefore, it is with deep regret that, due to ever escalating arrivals I must inform you that KCC is once again in a position whereby it cannot meet both its statutory duties to accept all new UAS children arrivals, care for them safely and discharge all of its other duties towards vulnerable children and young people in Kent.”
The court had noted that when KCC previously ran out of capacity to take in migrant children it was in danger of acting in a “discriminatory” manner by appearing to favour Kent children.
Cllr Chandler added: “I must also notify you that due to the court’s findings regarding discrimination…despite having no other mechanism in place to care for them, the council may potentially now also find itself in the unthinkable position during this time of being prevented from continuing to accept Section 20 resident children’s referrals into KCC Children’s Services.
“There is however an inherent discrimination built into the existing arrangements as there is the national transfer scheme (NTS) for arriving asylum seeking children which ensures that they will be cared for by a local authority somewhere in the UK, whereas there are no transfer arrangements for children already resident in Kent.
“Therefore, if KCC did not accept them they would undoubtedly suffer considerably.”
The statement added: “Currently, KCC has 315 more UAS children in the council’s care than the 0.1% (346) threshold under the NTS.
“We are not able to deal with this international issue alone without a properly managed and effective NTS. This continues to have significant implications for our county and all children in need of care, whether they arrive as asylum seekers or already reside in Kent.
“This wholly disproportionate and unsustainable strain on KCC Children’s Services has once again pushed physical resources beyond the limit.
“Social workers have caseloads of upwards of seventy and accommodations are full with very few appropriate alternative placements available elsewhere in the country.”
KCC has vowed to challenge the High Court ruling.
The Home Office has been approached for a comment.