Kent Leader announces “we cannot safely meet our statutory duty”

Written by Justine Wingate for kccmediahub.net

Kent County Council (KCC) Leader, Roger Gough and Sue Chandler, Cabinet Member for Integrated Children’s Services have announced that, despite efforts to work with the Home Office, and the county council’s many appeals for support from other UK Local Authorities, Kent has today reached the limit of safe capacity to care for new arrivals of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) and is unable to accept new arrivals from today until a solution can be found by the Home Office to fairly distribute the children to other Local authorities.

With the number of new UASC arrivals escalating sharply this year, particularly by boat during lockdown, and the failure of the currently discretionary National Transfer Scheme to fairly distribute the care of these young people to local authorities throughout the UK, an impossible strain has been placed on finite KCC social care resources such as social workers, independent reviewing officers, care workers, foster carers, accommodation and funding.

In May 2020, council leader Roger Gough made a direct appeal for support to the Home Secretary Priti Patel and the council was extremely grateful for the resulting useful and encouraging meeting with Chris Philp MP and his generous offers of help and support.

Following this, we have held subsequent meetings with the Home Office. We have emphasised via these discussions, and publicly in the media, that Kent is on the verge of running out of resources; most recently giving notice of reaching full capacity on Friday (14 Aug 2020). However, promised actions have not materialised and as forewarned KCC is no longer able to meet our statutory duty to receive new arrivals at Dover into our care, while at the same time meet our statutory duty to care for them safely. The County Council no longer has the placement capacity or social work capacity to safely do this, after months of extraordinary demands on our UASC services.

Roger Gough, KCC Leader said:

“I am deeply disappointed and concerned that, despite our many efforts to avoid this unthinkable situation, it has been necessary to make this announcement today. This is a huge challenge for Kent, but a relatively small challenge to solve nationally, and should have been resolved before now.

“Since the arrival of significant numbers of UASC at the port of Dover in 2014/15, KCC has cared for and found homes for over 1500 UASC in Kent, and is currently responsible for 589 under 18 year-old and 945 (18-25 year-old) care leavers, whilst still sustaining our focus on delivering high-quality services to citizen children in care.

“The stark reality today is that, despite my conversations with the Home Office alerting them that Kent expected to reach safe capacity to meet its statutory duty of care this weekend, 13 new arrivals in the last 2 days has now tipped the balance and the council simply cannot safely accommodate any more new arrivals at this time.

Sue Chandler, Cabinet member for Integrated Children’s Services continued:

“KCC will continue to review the situation and stay in contact with the Home Office and other UK local authorities for support. If every other local authority in the UK were to immediately accept  2 or 3 (under 18 year-old) UASC from Kent into their care, Kent’s numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation as stated in the National Transfer Scheme (231 children) – Kent is currently caring for almost triple this amount. We are grateful for the support some other local authorities have given recently but unfortunately, due to the continued high level of arrivals, it has not been enough to make a real difference to the numbers in Kent.

“In the longer term, to ensure that any recurrence of this inconceivable situation is avoided in the future we are appealing to the Home Office to mandate the existing National Transfer Scheme, or provide alternative central government incentives, to guarantee that the future care of UASC is fairly distributed nationally.

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