Kent Council is threatening the government with legal action as their services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are reaching breaking point for the second time in a year.
Kent currently has nearly double the number of UASC children in care the government says it is safe to have. The council has now taken the first steps in legal proceedings to implement a long-term solution that will prevent this crisis from occurring again.
Kent County Council (KCC) Leader Roger Gough said: “Kent residents deserve a resolution to this issue. We still do not have one. The wholly disproportionate strain on Kent’s Children’s Services continues to be overlooked.”
“We must ensure that all UK local authorities with capacity share in the support of these children.”
In August last year, Kent Council announced that it has reached its capacity to safely care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and was unable to accept any new arrivals.
Following the crisis, the Home Office and Department for Education promised to reform national systems so that Kent services would not be put under the same unreasonable strain this year.
However, a statement from the council highlights that while it welcomed government support in the transfer of some UASC out of Kent, assistance with age assessments and additional funding, the substantive changes needed to the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) to prevent a repeat have not been made.
As a result, Kent services are at risk of being overwhelmed by the number of new UASC arrivals by boat, which already stands at 60 more children than at the same time last year.
Between 1 January and 1 June this year 242 UASC have arrived in Kent and been passed to Kent Children’s Services. Of these, only 52 have been transferred to other local authorities under the voluntary NTS.
Taking the first legal steps in a bid to prevent Kent being overwhelmed and unable to care safely for UASC, the proposed Judicial Review asks the Home Secretary to use her existing powers to direct local authorities other than Kent to receive their fair share of UASC.
It refers to the “refusal and/or continuing failure by the Home Secretary to exercise her powers to prepare a mandatory scheme to transfer some of the functions of KCC in respect of its responsibility to UASC’s to other local authorities in England, and to direct other local authorities in England to comply with that scheme”.
Roger Gough has been advised by the Director of Children’s Services that the current pace of arrivals and strain on care services is likely to mean he will no longer be able to safely accept any further new UASC arrivals in Kent before the end of this week.
Border Forces will then be asked to place new arrivals directly into other local authorities around the country from the port, as they did for three months last year.
Roger Gough said: “I am deeply saddened that we are now seeing a repeat of the same crisis of nine months ago.
“While there have been a number of welcome measures from government – to the benefit of the Kent council taxpayer – we have not seen what is most needed: a robust National Transfer Scheme that prevents port authorities such as Kent coming under unmanageable pressure. Over this last year we have argued consistently and repeatedly that this must be done through a mandatory system.
“The Home Office consulted on changes to the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) in August and September last year and have yet to publish any new proposals or a response to the consultation. The scheme remains voluntary with insufficient incentive for other UK Local Authorities to transfer UASC from Kent.
“Enough is enough. A robust, long-term solution is well overdue and critical for the future welfare of all children supported by KCC, whatever their background, and the continuation of the excellent services that support them,” he added.
The council statement said that while this remains a small problem to solve for the nation, it is a huge problem for Kent in the meantime.
In the absence of any substantive Home Office response to the council’s proposal by 17 June 2021, the council will proceed to issue a claim for Judicial Review against the Home Secretary.
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