The government is threatening to force councils to take young asylum seekers from Kent amid warnings from social care chiefs that services are close to breaking point.
Home Secretary Theresa May, along with education secretary Nicky Morgan and communities secretary Greg Clark - a Kent MP - have jointly signed a letter telling councils they must do more to help Kent.
The letter warns councils should step in to ease the pressure on Kent as it struggles to cope with hundreds of young asylum seeker children - so-called unaccompanied minors.
It follows a shock report by the county council that says the crisis is pushing social care for vulnerable children to breaking point and 180 children who have arrived in Kent have yet to be allocated a social worker.
The letter from the three ministers states: “We recognise the efforts of the 19 local authorities who have responded positively and have accepted UASC (Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Children) into their care from Kent.
"However, to date only 42 of the nearly 1,000 children in Kent’s care have been transferred into the care of another local authority. This is simply not enough.”
It goes on: “We are clear local authorities with the capacity to support UASC , who can be some of the most vulnerable children in care, should do so.”
“What Kent has had to do is wholly exceptional. No other council has had to deal with this issue" - KCC director of social care Andrew Ireland
But the letter warns: “We hope that the national dispersal scheme will remain voluntary and operated by local authorities. However, we have also been considering whether these voluntary arrangements should be backed up by reserve powers so that we are well placed to avoid any repeat of the situation which has arisen in Kent this summer and to ensure that dispersal is truly national.”
At a meeting to consider the report today (3) councillors were told KCC had requested government permission to recruit unqualified social workers to help deal with a backlog of about 180 children, who have not been allocated a social worker.
Andrew Ireland, the council’s director of social care, said the surge in numbers was “exceptional” and no other council was facing the unique pressures that Kent was.
“What Kent has had to do is wholly exceptional. No other council has had to deal with this issue,” he said.