Kent County Council (KCC) Leader, Roger Gough has written to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel this morning seeking “immediate help with resolving the crisis that is engulfing services for Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC)” outlined as “a burden currently being borne almost exclusively by Kent County Council”.
After trying for some time without success to work with the Department for Education and the Home Office to broker a national solution to this national problem, greatly increased arrivals of UASC on Kent’s shores in 2020 have stretched Children’s Services in Kent to the point where they have now “run out of road”.
The letter calls for immediate action to reinstate the National Transfer Scheme to fairly redistribute UASC arrivals throughout England and combine it with sufficient funding for receiving Local Authorities to cover their costs.
The 2015 NTS scheme fell into disrepair because it was voluntary and did not have sufficient funding.
The letter calls for the Home Secretary to use existing powers to make NTS compulsory if a revived voluntary scheme does not work.
Mr Gough also adds “If you do not take immediate action, I fear we will shortly reach a position where the County Council no longer has the capacity to accept any more newly arrived UASC from Border Force at the port of Dover, as we will no longer be able to safely meet our statutory duty of care to them. “
“That is not a position any of us wish to be in and is not said lightly.”
A copy of KCC Leader, Roger Gough’s appeal to the Home Secretary Priti Patel follows:
I am writing seeking your immediate help with resolving the crisis that is engulfing our services for Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) in Kent.
I am asking you to reactivate the National Transfer Scheme (NTS) with immediate effect to ease this crisis and ensure the fair and workable distribution of unaccompanied children across the country.
Kent County Council (KCC) has been seeking assistance for some time now from the host department for the care of UASC, the Department for Education, and I know they in turn have been working with the Home Office, who lead on Asylum policy, to try and get a national solution to these problems.
Along with Kent MPs we have also been speaking to the Minister for Children, Vicky Ford, and she with Chris Philp, Undersecretary of State. Despite this we seem to have made no progress so far in resolving our issues, which are now acute; hence this appeal to you personally.
Action today to reactivate the NTS can secure a fair national solution to the care and dispersal of UASC arrivals, a burden currently being borne almost exclusively by the County Council.
If you do not take immediate action, I fear we will shortly reach a position where the County Council no longer has the capacity to accept any more newly arrived UASC from Border Force at the port of Dover, as we will no longer be able to safely meet our statutory duty of care to them.
That is not a position any of us wish to be in and is not said lightly. With your help, we can ensure we do not reach that position.
Our concern is, and always has been, primarily for the welfare of these children. Since the arrival of significant numbers of UASC at the port of Dover in 2014/15, we have cared for and found homes for over 1500 children in Kent, and currently are responsible for nearly 1,000 UASC care leavers, as well as safely transferring hundreds more to the care of other Local Authorities.
Our Children’s Services are acknowledged as experts in the field, and we are proud of the job we have done as a Reception Authority for UASC, and as corporate parent to some 1,500 Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking children and young people. We have done this while sustaining our focus on delivering high-quality services to citizen Children in Care.
However, a combination of policy failures and the effects of the COVID-19 virus has left us facing a similar position to that we faced in the summer of 2015, when our services for UASC children were all but overwhelmed by the volume of Unaccompanied Children arriving by trucks and trains at Dover seeking Asylum.
In 2015, both my predecessor and yours agreed a solution designed to ensure that we, KCC and the Home Office, never found ourselves in this position again.
The NTS was created under the auspices of the 2016 Immigration Act to fairly and safely distribute UASC to the care of Local Authorities throughout England. Despite this, here we are in 2020, once again facing the same position, the same crisis, and it is simply unacceptable.
This is because since 2018 the NTS has effectively ceased to function and has fallen into disrepair.
The reasons for this will be well known to you and are primarily because the rates paid by the Home Office to Local Authorities, particularly for Care Leavers, were not enough to cover their costs.
As the scheme was voluntary, most Local Authorities were no longer incentivised to take part in NTS and so stopped taking transfers from us. Since 2018 we have been largely unable to transfer UASC to the care of other authorities in England through NTS, and it has ceased to work.
New arrivals in Kent ports have therefore largely remained permanently in the care of KCC. As a result, we now have more than twice the maximum ratio of UASC under -18s we are supposed to care for, and nearly 1000 UASC care leavers.
During 2018 numbers of newly arriving UASC at Kent ports dropped to levels that were more manageable, if still demanding, for our Children’s Services. However, during 2019 a combination of the ceasing of NTS and steady increase in new arrivals meant increasing pressure on our services.
Since 2020 began, the number of new arrivals at Dover has escalated to reach 2015 levels month by month. The numbers of UASC we have taken into our care so far this year are:
MONTH 2020 Numbers of new arrivals January 13 February 41 March 37 April 37 May to date 50
Since the beginning of March, UASC have largely ceased arriving by the traditional route of truck and train and have almost exclusively arrived by small boat from Calais off the coast of Kent.
Dover is now effectively the only entry point for UASC in the UK. In the absence of any functioning NTS, KCC has become the sole carers of the nation’s UASC, and this is neither fair nor safe. At historic rates of acceleration, another 300 unaccompanied children could arrive at Dover by the end of the summer.
We are now in a position where our services for these children have run out of road. We have opened 2 new reception centres for new arrivals in the last 2 months in addition to our existing one at Milbank, and all 3 are now full. We do not have access to any suitable new premises to create new facilities for another 3 months at least.
Foster placements and supported lodging placements in Kent are exhausted. We are running out of social workers and Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) to allocate to individual children, as we are required to by statute. We are already having to double up some children in bedrooms, against current health advice for COVID 19.
If 14-day isolation requirements are brought in for new arrivals, we will be unable to meet them from the end of this week. When we are no longer able to safely care for new arrivals, which will be shortly, we will be unable to fulfil our statutory duties.
I am asking you to take the following immediate actions to ensure a safe and fair resolution to this crisis in the short term and create the basis for a long-term solution at the same time.
None of these actions require any new legislation and can be actioned immediately under current powers.
- Relaunch the National Transfer Scheme to enable us to safely transfer some of our current UASC cohort and future new arrivals to other Local Authorities in England. Just prior to the COVID crisis the Home Office was due to formally consult on a revised NTS, following extensive engagement with Local Authorities in drafting. We believe this revised scheme commands broad support from LAs when combined with 2) below and could be launched as a voluntary scheme immediately.
- The Home Office has been reviewing the rates paid for UASC care leavers for 3 years now. You have acknowledged that the current rate is too low and acts as a disincentive to receiving Local Authorities. In 2019 the rate paid for under 18 UASC was finally raised to a realistic cost recovery level. Please now do the same for the Care Leavers rate, as I believe the Home Office is already committed to do in principle, and you will at a stroke remove the main barrier to other Local Authorities participating in NTS.
- You have the power now under the 2016 Immigration Act to mandate an NTS scheme and make it compulsory for Local Authorities to take part. If 1) and 2) above are implemented and do not work, please exercise this power.
To reiterate, we are at a point now where it is your immediate intervention that can prevent a crisis escalating into something unmanageable and unsafe for children.
We need a national solution to this national problem.
I stand ready, as does the County Council, to assist in any way we can with that endeavour, but we cannot continue to shoulder this responsibility alone and without your help.
I am placing this letter in the public domain.
Leader of Kent County Council
Member for Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley