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Situation ‘critical’ as Kent struggles with influx of asylum seeking children

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Kent County Council is talking to government about a “national dispersal system” to deal with the surge of unaccompanied children arriving in the county and seeking asylum.

  • Number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers arriving in Kent has more than doubled since May
  • Kent CC has run out of foster placements
  • Discussions with government about additional financial support in wake of £5.5m shortfall

Council members met with Home Office officials on Thursday to talk about the impact of a large increase in child migrants arriving at the Port of Dover.

Large numbers of migrants are making their way to the UK from makeshift camps in Calais, France.

The council is working with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to accommodate some of the children outside Kent and talking to the government about national dispersal arrangements and additional funding.

ADCS president Alison O’Sullivan warned the situation in Kent was “critical” and called on local authorities across the country to help accommodate the children.

Ms O’Sullivan, director of children’s services at Kirkless Metropolitan Council, said: “There has been a gradual increase in numbers of unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the past few months and a spike in July has created an acute and immediate capacity issue for the council. These children, some as young as 12, are extremely vulnerable and in need of our help and support. Our sole focus needs to be on the best interests of the children and ensuring that they are properly supported and cared for.”

The number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers in Kent has more than doubled since May. It stands at 630, with 100 arriving in June and approximately another 200 in July.

A month ago the council had a shortfall of £5.5m between what it spends on caring for the children and the allowance it gets from the government.

Peter Oakford Kent CC

Peter Oakford Kent CC

The council’s cabinet member for specialist children’s services Peter Oakford (Con) said the shortfall had “increased fairly dramatically over the last few weeks with the increase in numbers [of children arriving]”.

He said: “Conversations we have had with government have led us to believe we will get some help in this area. Once we are through the current position we will start looking at the finances and start talking to government along these lines.”

He said the council proposed to “carry on doing assessments and running reception centres for when young people arrive but we are then seeking to work with government on a national dispersal system so young people find safe homes throughout the country, and not just in Kent which is bursting at the seams”.

The county has now run out of foster and supported accommodation placements for the young people who are now being placed in other council areas. But social workers from Kent still have to travel to visit the children who remain the responsibility of the council.

Cllr Oakford said: “The service is under an enormous amount of pressure and it is struggling but we have a lot of people working a huge number of hours and we are having to recruit through agencies to bring in more social workers to deal with this situation.”

Talking about Thursday’s meeting, he said: “The meeting yesterday was a recognition that it is not just a Kent problem; it is a national problem.”

He said the children were from Eritrea, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cllr David Simmonds, deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, said the government should reimburse councils for the additional pressure placed on children’s services budgets by asylum seeking children.

He pointed out councils in the area where an unaccompanied child arrives were responsible for all costs associated with the individual until the age of25, including university fees and housing costs.

“In times of particularly high demand, councils work together to ensure that no young person is left with nowhere to go, but the current situation is placing unprecedented pressure on an already overburdened system. 

“With the well-publicised issues around the channel tunnel, both local and central government need to work together to identify long term solutions to ensure that local communities do not have to cope with all of the pressures caused by an international problem.”

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