Published: 20:10, 17 August 2020
| Updated: 20:16, 19 August 2020
"We cannot safely accommodate any more asylum-seeking children at this time."
That is the message from Kent County Council (KCC) as it today reached the limit of safe capacity to look after the youngsters, following "months of extraordinary demands" on its services.
Bosses say they can no longer accept any more children after the arrival of 13 more in the last two days "tipped the balance".
It is calling for the government to devise a scheme to distribute the children to other parts of the country.
KCC leader Roger Gough said: "I am deeply disappointed and concerned that, despite our many efforts to avoid this unthinkable situation, it has been necessary to make this announcement today.
"This is a huge challenge for Kent, but a relatively small challenge to solve nationally, and should have been resolved before now.
“Since the arrival of significant numbers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at Dover in 2014/15, we have cared for and found homes for over 1,500 in Kent, while sustaining our focus on delivering high-quality services to citizen children in care.
“The stark reality today is that, despite my conversations with the Home Office, 13 new arrivals in the last two days has now tipped the balance and the council cannot safely accommodate any more new arrivals at this time."
The council is currently responsible for 589 under the age of 18, and a further 945 18- to 25-year-olds.
Following a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel in May, Mr Gough held further discussions with officials over the following five months.
KCC also alerted the government last week that it expected to reach and exceed the maximum number of children it can safely care for imminently.
But it says, despite repeated pleas to the Home Office, it has not received the support it has needed.
Sue Chandler, cabinet member for integrated children’s services, said: “If every other local authority in the UK were to immediately accept two or three children from Kent into their care, our numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation.
"We are grateful for the support some other local authorities have given recently but unfortunately, due to the continued high level of arrivals, it has not been enough to make a real difference to the numbers in Kent.
“In the longer term, to ensure that any recurrence of this inconceivable situation is avoided, we are appealing to the Home Office to guarantee that the future care of UASC is fairly distributed nationally.”
Ms Chandler says KCC will regularly review the situation as it continues to try to secure further support from the Home Office and other local authorities.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This is an unprecedented situation and we have been working incredibly closely with Kent County Council to urgently address their concerns.
“We continue to provide KCC with a high level of support, such as significantly increasing funding and reducing pressure on their services through a national transfer scheme.
"We are also providing extra support with children’s services and we continue to work across the local government network on their provision for unaccompanied minors.”