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Hundreds of vulnerable children from outside Kent sent to county

By Paul Francis

County councillors have voiced concerns that parts of Kent are continuing to see large numbers of vulnerable children placed in the county by other authorities.

A report on the most up to date figures has revealed that Thanet has 522 looked after children, of which nearly half - 234 - are from outside the county.

In Swale, there are 214 out-of-county children compared with 148 from Kent.

The overall number of looked after children from outside the county stands at 1,272.

(1908208)
(1908208)

In both Thanet and Swale, the worst offenders for placements of young children are London boroughs who have traditionally looked to Kent chiefly because of the lower costs.

The figures come against a background of rising concerns that London gangs are moving across county lines and exploiting vulnerable young children, particularly in poorer towns.

Education chiefs are to hold urgent talks with a group of authorities that send most at-risk children to the county.

Matt Dunkley, KCC director for children, young people and education, said that compared with other parts of the country, Kent was not as badly affected but there was an issue of clustering placements in certain areas.

“Although we have significant difficulties in Kent, we are nowhere near being the most affected. Our problem is that we have a concentration in one or two areas.”

The council was focusing on about five councils who used Kent for placements and Ofsted was brokering talks with them, he said. Greenwich tops the list with 114 children placed in Kent - about one in four of the overall total.

At risk children in Kent reaches nearly 1300 (1910297)
At risk children in Kent reaches nearly 1300 (1910297)

The figures were disclosed in a report to the cross-party education cabinet meeting this week.(Tues 8)

Cllr Rosalind Binks (Con), who represents Thanet, said the area already suffered from gang violence and bullying.

“It is not acceptable to have London boroughs off-loading and to not even have the courtesy to tell you where they are going to do it. This will have - and already has had - an effect on other children in the area. It may have an impact on our attraction as a tourist resort.”

Cllr Malcolm Northey (Con) said placing vulnerable children in areas where there were already concerns already about social deprivation could place them at even greater risk.

“We know there are dubious people approaching these children. Are these authorities aware of the particular vulnerabilities there are in these areas? These children might be in grave danger of not being helped, to put it mildly.”

There should be a national protocol which set out what councils should do when placing children at risk into the care of other authorities, he said.

Cllr Roger Gough, KCC cabinet for children's services said: "It is not that we have a huge number of looked after children placed in Kent but that there is a concentration of them in two particular areas."

Mr Dunkley said the council could not duck its statutory obligations to accept vulnerable children. The key factor affecting the influx was that London boroughs could find cheaper accommodation, relatively close by.

He said the lack of good schools in the two areas was a further cause of concern. “The school options are not fantastic.”

The report underlined a stark contrast between east and west Kent. Tunbridge Wells has 20 out-of-county children while Tonbridge and Malling has the second lowest at 53.

KCC itself has placed 131 of its own vulnerable children in other areas.

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