Published: 20:58, 10 June 2021
| Updated: 21:27, 10 June 2021
A council says it has to turn away asylum seeker children from next Monday.
Kent County Council says it has now reached an unsafe capacity of unaccompanied asylum seeker children (UASC) and can no longer accept any new arrivals.
The authority had to take similar action last August.
Tonight's announcement was a joint one between council leader Roger Gough and Sue Chandler, cabinet ember for integrated children’s services.
They said this was done despite ongoing efforts to work with the Home Office regarding the voluntary National Transfer Scheme (NTS).
The authority also believes that, following the Government’s announcement yesterday, it is will not use its existing powers under the 2016 Immigration Act to make the NTS mandatory for local authorities.
The council says it is waiting for Home Secretary Priti Patel's’s formal reply to its Letter Before Claim and hope she will reconsider mandating the NTS to prevent it having to pursue further legal action through the courts.
KCC adds that there has been a repeated failure of the voluntary NTS to meet the purpose the Home Office created it for in 2016, to keep pace with the rate of arrivals and provide timely transfers.
It says this has resulted in a significant and disproportionate number of UASC remaining in Kent rather than being dispersed fairly around the country.
This is coupled with Kent’s statutory duty to provide care for any unaccompanied child arriving on the county's shores
It says all this has once again brought KCC support services to breaking point.
The government’s recommended maximum number of under 18-year-old UASC that Kent should care for is 231.
'I am profoundly saddened to be in this unthinkable position...'
Since the beginning of the year, Kent has seen the number of under 18-year-old UASC in care rise from 274 to more than 400, with numbers continuing to rapidly increase on a daily basis.
This, coupled with the number of UASC care leavers over 18 who remain in care with the council until the age of 25 totalling 1100, means KCC no longer has capacity to safely look after new arrivals.
KCC stressed it had long said, along with other councils, that only a mandatory NTS scheme will be fair and equitable.
But it believes the proposals announced yesterday by the Home Office, and to be launched next month, will not exercise the existing power of the Home Secretary to mandate transfers under the NTS, and it will continue to be voluntary.
Cllr Gough said: “I am profoundly saddened to be in this unthinkable position once again in such a short period of time.
"Despite warnings, and continued dialogue with government, Kent’s UASC support resources are again significantly overwhelmed.
“I have accepted the advice from our Director of Children’s Services that reluctantly, from Monday, June 14, we will no longer be able meet our statutory duty to safely care for the children we support.
"We can therefore accept no further new UASC arrivals until sufficient transfers have been made outside of Kent bringing our numbers back to safe levels.
“I am deeply disappointed that, after having admitted that the voluntary NTS scheme is not working, government has still not invoked their powers to mandate and the proposed new NTS announced today remains voluntary.
“As we have experienced over the past few years, there is absolutely no evidence that a voluntary National Transfer Scheme has kept pace with the ever-escalating new arrivals on our shores.
"Having diagnosed the UASC problem in 2016 and established the prescription of the NTS, the government has used the placebo of a voluntary NTS instead of the cure of a mandated scheme.
“Kent residents have been waiting a number of years for a long-term national solution to the ongoing disproportionate strain on local services. While there have been a number of welcome measures from government, –to the benefit of the Kent council taxpayer, we have not seen what is most needed: a robust mandatory National Transfer Scheme for all local authorities.
“We now await the Home Secretary’s response to our Letter Before Claim.”
Cll Gough said if every other UK council took two or three under 18-year-old UASC who arrived at Dover Kent’s numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation immediately.
He added: "This remains, a small problem for the nation to resolve but a huge and unreasonable responsibility for Kent."