Government threatens to force councils to take on asylum-seeking children

By Neil Puffett

| 02 December 2015

Government is considering forcing local authorities to take on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in order to ease pressure on Kent County Council, it has emerged.

Kent County Council has nearly 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in its care. Picture: Nathan Clark

A letter from Home Secretary Theresa May, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Communities Secretary Greg Clark to all council leaders, which has been seen by CYP Now, reveals that a voluntary scheme to support Kent County Council has not had the desired effect.

As a result of the refugee crisis there are now nearly 1,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) in Kent County Council’s care. Around 300 of these have been placed in other local authority areas, but other councils have only agreed to take on full statutory responsibility for less than 50 children.

"We recognise the efforts of the 19 local authorities who have responded positively and have accepted UASC into their care from Kent," the letter states.

"However, to date only 42 of the nearly 1,000 children in Kent’s care have been transferred into the care of another local authority. This is simply not enough.

"We are clear that local authorities with the capacity to support UASC, who can be some of the most vulnerable children in care, should do so.

The letter goes on to state that government will consider introducing a mandatory scheme.

"We hope that the national dispersal scheme will remain voluntary and operated by local authorities," the letter states.

"However, we have also been considering whether these voluntary arrangements should be backed up by reserve powers so that we are well placed to avoid any repeat of the situation which has arisen in Kent this summer and to ensure that dispersal is truly national."

Speaking in a council meeting today, Kent County Council's assistant director of specialist children's services said that only one authority has come forward to offer support since the letter was sent last Tuesday (24 November).

"It has been a week and Wolverhampton Council has come forward to say it will take on two or three children in their entirety – not only providing a placement, but taking on full statutory responsibility for them," she said.

"That leaves us with still close to 1,000 children."

The letter from government to council leaders pledges that funding will be made available to local authorities willing to take on asylum-seeking children. Each child accepted from Kent aged under 16 will be attract £41,610 per year of funding from government, with children aged 16 or 17 attracting £33,215 per year.

"We are committed to reducing the burdens placed on local authorities and we have asked our officials to continue the dialogue started with local authorities to see what more we can do in respect of the additional costs associated with UASC care such as higher education costs," the letter states.

It adds that children's minister Edward Timpson and Home Office minister James Brokenshire will host a roundtable discussion with local government leaders to review the initial response to the letter, to discuss any remaining issues relating to implementation of the national dispersal scheme.

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