Council ‘unable to meet’ duties to look after unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

A local authority says it has been “forced” into a position of failing to meet its duties to look after children in its care amid a “wholly inadequate” national system for dealing with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC).

Kent County Council (KCC) said the National Transfer Scheme (NTS), where children are moved from one local authority to another to help even out the distribution of care, is part of the problem, coupled with “escalating arrivals” of vulnerable children on its shore.

The county council said it is currently caring for 661 UASC youths and 1,030 UASC care leavers.

Council leader Roger Gough and children’s services boss Sue Chandler said: “It is with deep regret that, due to ever-escalating arrivals and a wholly inadequate National Transfer Scheme (NTS), KCC has 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.”

In July, the council launched a legal challenge against the Home Office over the the “disproportionate strain” on its services.

According to Kent Council, a judgment ruled that the council must take every newly arrived asylum-seeking child in Kent as well as children already living in Kent.

“Since the judgment… 489 newly arrived UAS children have been referred into Kent’s Children’s Services. This number far exceeds the total number of referrals into most other UK local authorities children’s services in a year,” the council bosses said.

They said just 136 children have been transferred to other local authorities within the same four-week time frame.

Cllr Gough and Cllr Chandler added: “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 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.”

KCC has previously criticised the NTS and its “burden” of taking on more responsibility than other councils due to Dover remaining a key point of entry for newly arriving youngsters.

The system was first introduced on a voluntary basis for local authorities in 2016, but was it made a mandatory requirement to take part by the Home Office to “relieve pressures” in 2022.

It is understood following the judgment that the Government has extended funding incentives of £6,000 for transfers from KCC to other local authorities within five days until the end of 2023 to 2024.

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.”

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