Kent county council is refusing to accept any more unaccompanied child migrants, after warning its services were at breaking point for the second time in less than a year.
Kent has been locked in a battle with the Home Office, and four days ago issued legal proceedings against the home secretary.
The authority said the level of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) children in the county had reached “unsafe” levels, and has served a formal letter before action to the Home Office.
Kent has nearly double the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in care that the government says it is safe to have, the council has said. The council leader, Roger Gough, said the council had been put in an “unthinkable” position for the second time in less than 12 months, and that services were overwhelmed.
“Reluctantly, from Monday 14 June we will no longer be able meet our statutory duty to safely care for the children we support and can therefore accept no further new UASC arrivals until sufficient transfers have been made outside of Kent bringing our numbers back to safe levels,” he said.
Gough and Sue Chandler, the cabinet member for integrated children’s services, said the council had taken the move as it was “clear” the Home Office did not intend to use existing powers to direct local authorities other than Kent to receive their fair share of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
The proposed judicial review asks the home secretary, Priti Patel, to use existing powers to force local authorities other than Kent to receive their fair share of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, under the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) protocol.
“I am deeply disappointed that, after having admitted that the voluntary NTS scheme is not working, government have still not invoked their powers to mandate and the proposed new NTS announced today remains voluntary,” said Gough.
He added t there was “no evidence” t the voluntary scheme had kept pace with the “ever-escalating new arrivals on our shores”.
“If every other local authority in the UK were to take two or three under-18-year-old UASC who arrive at Dover into their care, Kent’s numbers would reduce to the council’s safe allocation immediately. This remains a small problem for the nation to resolve but a huge and unreasonable responsibility for Kent.”
The council said according to government rules, Kent should care for a maximum of 231 children, but the number of children in care had risen to more than 400 since the beginning of the year, while the number of those in care until the age of 25 was 1,100.
A Home Office spokesperson said it was grateful for the part Kent county council had played in supporting lone child migrants, adding it had provided the authority “with substantial operational support, including transferring those in need of support to other local authorities in the UK”.
The spokesperson added: “We recently announced vital updates to the National Transfer Scheme to alleviate pressures on certain areas and continue to work closely across government on provision for unaccompanied minors.”