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Rise in unaccompanied child asylum seekers coming to Kent sparks visit from Home Office

By Paul Francis

A surge in the number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers entering Kent is putting "enormous strain" on social services, it's emerged.

The number of young migrants in Kent County Council's care has almost doubled in the past three months to 605.

This has left the authority struggling to find the £5.5 million needed to support them.

After being rounded up, the asylum seekers are led away. Picture Mark Salt

After being rounded up, the asylum seekers are led away. Picture: Mark Salt

There has been a significant rise in vulnerable children reaching the UK in recent weeks in particular, which the council says is related to the growing numbers in migrant camps at Calais.

The influx prompted Home Office officials to visit Kent today, to hear the concerns of social services chiefs.

The senior civil servants were here for a series of meetings to assess the impact on the county of the crisis in Calais.

"It is putting enormous strain on our children’s social services. We are now caring for 605 under 18s and face a shortfall of £5.5 million in costs to care for them..." - Paul Carter

After the meeting, Mr Carter said the authority was looking into the possibility of sending the youngsters elsewhere in the country.

He said: "I have today met with the Home Office to discuss both the impact of Operation Stack as well as the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children entering the Port of Dover and Kent County Council’s duty of care to provide for them.

"It is putting enormous strain on our children’s social services. We are now caring for 605 under 18s and face a shortfall of £5.5 million in costs to care for them.

"Staff are working flat out to support these vulnerable young people through our reception centres and we are urgently looking at new premises in order to expand the facilities.

"We are now working with the Association of Directors of Children's Services to come to a dispersal arrangement outside of Kent as we need places across the country where they can go after assessment."

At the moment, the surge has led KCC to plan another centre for dealing with unaccompanied children in Whitstable to help accommodate them. It currently places them mainly at a centre in Ashford, Millbank.

Although the county council recoups much of the money from the Home Office, social services say they do not get the full amount and are predicting a shortfall in the budget of £5.5m.

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter

Government grants to KCC left it £1.1m out of pocket last year but the council fears that will grow to £5.6m this year.

It forecasts that it will need to spend £33.4m in 2015-16 but government grants will only cover £27.8m.

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act KCC’s costs reimbursed by the government per child were £112 a day last year but that has fallen to £91 per child.

Each child receives £10 a week “pocket money”.

The Millbank Reception centre, a former old people’s home, has capacity for about 50 children but KCC says that is not enough.

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