Published: 08:00, 25 January 2016
Vulnerable children from Kent are having to be cared for outside the county because of the influx of asylum seeker children, it has been claimed.
Social services chiefs say they have had no option but to place local children away from the county as the problem of large numbers of asylum seeker children arriving in Kent goes on.
The numbers involved are said to be small but underline the continuing strains the authority is under.
Cllr Peter Oakford, the cabinet member for children’s care, said the county council was under constant pressure that would only be relieved if there was a compulsory scheme for asylum children to be dispersed around the country.
In a briefing to county councillors last week, he revealed: “Due to the 30% rise in LACs [Looked After Children] in seven months the availability of accommodation in Kent and Medway is extremely limited.
"This has affected our ability to place citizen children within Kent ourselves."
He continued: “We have had to place Kent children outside Kent due to the influx of unaccompanied minors, which is not a good position to be in and not a position we want to be in.
"It is actually costing us more financially because we have had to place six children in the short term in residential care which is far more expensive than normal foster care.”
He said that while the rate of arrivals had slowed, there was still a steady stream of arrivals that continued to put strains on the authority.
“We have had to place Kent children outside Kent due to the influx of unaccompanied minors, which is not a good position to be" - Cllr Peter Oakford
“The winter arrival rate has slowed, we had two or three weeks with very few arrivals.
"We are now looking at 10 or 15 a week. Although that doesn’t sound much compared with what we had in the summer, it is still three to four times the rate we had last winter.”
“That is around 40 to 50 a month, which will add an additional 200 between now and April.
"Then, if the numbers start to increase as they did last year, we will be in significant difficulties.”
He said that around 285 of the current 1,382 asylum children in KCC’s care were placed outside the county "due to the [lack of] availability of foster carers and care facilities within the county.”
There had been little help for KCC from other councils despite a stern letter to all councils from the Home Secretary Theresa May, urging them to step in and help.
“A total of 22 authorities have accepted full responsibility for 56 unaccompanied minors.
"There are outstanding offers for 35 but we are still waiting for them to be transferred because they all put conditions around that.
"One authority said it would only take children under the age of five, which is a bit of a challenge for someone coming from Afghanistan.”
On the plus side, Cllr Oakford said the council had received 350 offers of support to help with asylum seeker children from groups and individuals.
“It is superb and there has been a very generous response from the public.”
But he added that the council had seen a rise in complaints from the public because of the number of asylum children in Kent’s care being accommodated in “certain communities.”
“Until a dispersal programme comes into being, it will be very difficult to address that.”
At the same time as looking after children at risk from Kent and abroad, the council still had 1,360 children to look after from other local authorities.
KCC is likely to call on the government to use reserve powers in a new immigration act going through Parliament to bring in a compulsory dispersal scheme.
“We hope the government will do that and start to relieve some of the pressure that we have in Kent,” said Mr Oakford.
Council officials say they are concerned the summer could see a repeat of last year’s surge.
Philip Segurola, director of specialist children services, said: “The concern is that the arrival season from April and May will pick up again. That is a real anxiety.
"The expectation is that the numbers arriving this year are likely to be the same as last year, if not even higher. Our ability to sustain another year are extremely concerning.”
The stark picture of the crisis was described as depressing by UKIP councillor Zita Wiltshire.
“It is depressing, to say the least. Other authorities have taken just 22 children - that is a disgrace and they should be hanging their heads in shame.”
Number of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeker Children in Kent: 1,382
Under 18: 926
Over 18: 456
In reception centres: 81