Unaccompanied migrant children crisis risks overwhelming children’s services

Kent County Council has warned that it may no longer be able to accept new Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) arrivals within days as its services “reach breaking point”.

09/06/21

Unaccompanied migrant children crisis risks overwhelming children’s services

Kent County Council’s Director of Children’s Services has warned that the authority may no longer be able to accept new UASC arrivals “within days”.

Matt Dunkley CBE, Corporate Director for Children, Young People and Education, has advised the Council Leader 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.

Kent currently has nearly double the number of UASC children in care the Government says it is safe to have.

The warnings come just 9 months after the council was previously forced to stop accommodating vulnerable children crossing the channel due to escalating numbers meaning the council ran out of appropriate accommodation.

Should the council be no longer able to accept arrivals, Border Forces will be asked to place children directly into other local authorities around the country from the port, as they did for 3 months last year.

Social Workers Without Borders (SWWB), a charity offering support to asylum seekers and refugees, said returning to such a situation was “unacceptable”, pointing to the Kent Intake Unit Inspectorate Report (2020). The report detailed safeguarding failures by the Border Force including children being detained for days on end, children being wrongfully assessed as adults and sent to adult accommodation and detention centres, and children being dispersed without any clear assessment and plan for their safety and welfare needs.

“The situation in Kent is indicative of our broken immigration system,” a spokesperson for SWWB said. “The Home Office has responded to KCC’s Letter Before Action by doubling-down on their rhetoric that this is a result of people who ‘cheat the system’, this is simply not true.”

Following that crisis, which saw vastly increased UASC numbers arriving in small boats in Kent, 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.

The council has now taken the first steps in legal proceedings against the Home Office to implement a long-term solution that will prevent this crisis from occurring again.

Currently, local authorities volunteer to take on arriving unaccompanied minors. The National Transfer Scheme has seen 242 lone child migrants arrive in Kent, however only 52 have been moved to other local authorities.

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”.

Kent County Council says the authority is currently caring for 403 unaccompanied children, already 60 more children than at the same time last year.

Roger Gough, Conservative Council Leader, said he was deeply saddened to be seeing a repeat of last year’s crisis.

“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.”

“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.”

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said the Government was failing its duty to support the children arriving.

“Kent Council has been under immense pressure and not surprisingly is now unable to provide care for so many young people,” Solomon said, adding: “As their corporate parent this Government is now failing in its duty to provide the love and care these children desperately need. This cannot go on – we need decisive action to ensure that no child who comes to the UK alone seeking safety is neglected by the state.”

The Council says that in the absence of any substantive Home Office response to the council’s proposal by 17 June 2021, KCC will proceed to issue a claim for Judicial Review against the Home Secretary.

A Judicial Review is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body, such as a Government department.

A spokesperson for the Home Office said they are continuing 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."

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