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Kent County Council's plea for urgent help from Home Secretary as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children services 'run out of road'

Bedrooms are being doubled up at Kent reception centres for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC), as a council leader writes to the Home Secretary seeking "immediate help with the crisis engulfing services".

In his letter to Priti Patel, Kent County Council leader Roger Gough reveals how the "greatly increased" number of UASC arriving on Kent's shores has stretched children's services to the point they have "run out of road".

Oakwood House in Maidstone is one of the temporary reception centres housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children
Oakwood House in Maidstone is one of the temporary reception centres housing unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

The council is looking after twice the amount of under 18 UASC it is supposed to, along with nearly 1,000 UASC care leavers, between the age of 18 and 21.

So far this year, 178 young asylum seekers have been taken into the council's care, with 50 in May alone. And Cllr Gough estimates another 300 could arrive by the end of the summer.

Two additional reception centres have opened at Oakwood House in Maidstone and in Cranbrook in the last two months, along with the original Millbank Centre in Ashford. All three are now full.

Some bedrooms are being doubled up, against the health advice surrounding Covid-19, and if the 14-day isolation requirements are brought it, the council says it will be unable to meet them from the end of this week.

Cllr Gough writes: "We do not have access to any suitable premises to create new facilities for another three months at least. Foster placements and supported lodging placements in Kent are exhausted.

Kent County Council leader, Roger Gough
Kent County Council leader, Roger Gough

"We are running out of social workers and independent reviewing officers to allocate to individual children, as we are required to by statute. When we are no longer able to safely care for new arrivals, which will be shortly, we will be unable to fulfil our statutory duties."

It comes as a former head of Border Force, Tony Smith, told the Commons home affairs committee that the number of migrants risking their lives to cross the Channel is becoming a "major threat" to the UK border.

More than 150 people were picked up while attempting to reach the UK from France yesterday.

Cllr Gough states he has been trying for some time to "work with the Department for Education and the Home Office to broker a national solution to this national problem", without success.

He is now calling for immediate action to reinstate the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) to fairly redistribute UASC arrivals throughout England.

The scheme, started in 2016, has "effectively ceased to function and has fallen into disrepair" according to Cllr Gough.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office
Home Secretary, Priti Patel. Picture: Home Office

He said: "Action today to reactivate the NTS can secure a fair national solution to the care and dispersal of UASC arrivals, a burden currently being borne almost exclusively by the county council.

"If you do not take immediate action, I fear we will shortly reach a position where the county council no longer has the capacity to accept any more newly arrived UASC ."

He goes on to say: "A combination of policy failures and the effects of the Covid-19 virus has left us facing a similar position to that we faced in the summer of 2015, when our services for UASC children were all but overwhelmed by the volume of Unaccompanied Children arriving by trucks and trains at Dover seeking Asylum.

"In 2015, both my predecessor and yours agreed a solution designed to ensure that we, KCC and the Home Office, never found ourselves in this position again. Despite this, here we are in 2020, once again facing the same position, the same crisis, and it is simply unacceptable."

"Since 2018 we have been largely unable to transfer UASC to the care of other authorities in England through NTS, and it has ceased to work. New arrivals in Kent ports have therefore largely remained permanently in the care of KCC."

As a solution, Cllr Gough has asked the Home Secretary to relaunch the NTS, making it compulsory if necessary, and to increase the rates paid for UASC leavers.

Cllr Gough finishes his letter by saying: "We are at a point now where it is your immediate intervention that can prevent a crisis escalating into something unmanageable and unsafe for children. We need a national solution to this national problem.

"I stand ready, as does the county council, to assist in any way we can with that endeavour, but we cannot continue to shoulder this responsibility alone and without your help."

Read more: All the latest news from Dover


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