Published: 20:05, 24 April 2020
| Updated: 11:22, 29 April 2020
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are being housed in a council-owned hotel due to "logistical challenges" brought on by the pandemic.
Oakwood House in Maidstone is owned by Kent County Council, with rooms usually available to rent for conferences and events.
This function had to stop due to the lockdown rules and now asylum seeking children have been moved in.
The council has a legal responsibility for these young people when they arrive in the county, with care usually being given at Millbank Reception Centre in Ashford.
But the coronavirus outbreak has led to a need for more space - with the capacity of Millbank being 45 - to ensure social distancing and infection control measures are complied with.
As more children have continued to arrive in Kent, the council identified Oakwood House as a second reception centre to provide further accommodation for up to 40 children.
Separate facilities are on standby for any young person exhibiting symptoms and requiring isolation. This provision has not yet been required.
In total, Kent is currently looking after 450 under 18 UASC and 935 UASC care leavers, between the age of 18 and 25. Any child under 16 is placed immediately in foster care.
The Government's national transfer scheme, which supports local authorities to transfer responsibility for unaccompanied children to other authorities in the UK, has also been affected by the pandemic, leading to further pressure on Kent services.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the council with additional challenges"
A KCC spokesman said: "There have continued to be new arrivals coming into our care in recent months, and with the national transfer scheme effectively stopping working and the safety requirements of Covid-19, we have faced temporary logistical challenges to accommodate these children."
They added: "Today there remains capacity in Oakwood House to ensure appropriate social distancing and individual rooms for every young person. Staffing numbers at Oakwood house are equivalent to those at our other reception centre to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the young people in our care and of staff.
"Supplies of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment are available and deployed as and when necessary in accordance with Public Health England guidance. Social distancing measures are in place as far as possible, in the context that these centres are the young people’s home and they are not unwell."
Housing asylum seekers at the Oakwood Road venue is a temporary solution which the council intends to stop once restrictions associated with Covid-19 have been fully lifted.
Plans to convert Oakwood House into coroner's courts, registrar's and ceremony offices and an adult education centre will then continue. This change of use from a hotel was granted in July.
Some members of the public have raised concerns the building was providing accommodation for NHS staff before the children were moved in, but the council says there has been no contract in place to house NHS staff at Oakwood House. According to the council, any NHS staff staying at the hotel prior to lockdown would have booked rooms as usual.
More by this authorRebecca Tuffin