Kent County Council has begun legal proceedings against the Home Office after it said its children’s services have reached “breaking point”.
Since the beginning of the year, a total of 242 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) have reached Kent’s shores and the authority’s director of children’s services has said “enough is enough”.
There are currently nearly double the number of UASC children in care in the county than the government says it is safe to care for.
Following a similar plea last year, the Home Office and Department for Education promised to reform the national system so that Kent services would not be put under the same strain this summer.
But, the council says that in the intervening nine months, although it welcomed government support in the transfer of some children 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, the council says.
A statement from the council said: “Once again 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.
“Kent’s services have reached breaking point for the second time in under a year.”
The council has now taken the first steps in legal proceedings which is says is designed to “implement a long-term solution that will prevent this crisis from occurring again”.
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”.
Roger Gough, the authority’s director of children’s services says the current pace of arrivals and strain on care services is likely to mean he will soon no longer be able to safely accept any further new UASC arrivals in Kent.
Border Force 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.
Mr 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 past year we have argued consistently and repeatedly this must be done through a mandatory system.”
“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.”
Between 1 January and 1 June this year 242 unaccompanied children arrived on Kent’s shores and been passed to its Children’s Services.
Of these, only 52 have been transferred to other local authorities under the voluntary NTS.
A statement from the Home Office said it recognised the “longstanding role that Kent County Council has played in supporting unaccompanied asylum-seeking children” and that is was “extremely grateful for their contribution”.
It added: “We continue to encourage more areas to join the National Transfer Scheme and do their part.
“We have already consulted on how to improve the Scheme to make it fairer – the outcome of which will be published very shortly.”