The Border Force has taken responsibility for the care of new unaccompanied asylum-seeking children crossing the Channel into Kent after the authority said it could no longer accommodate arrivals on the back of a doubling in numbers this year.
Kent said that children and young people were staying in the at the Border Force intake centre in Dover until they can be transferred to other local authorities to be cared for, under the national transfer scheme, set up in 2016 to more evenly share the costs of supporting unaccompanied children.
The alleged failure of the scheme, the authority has argued, has led to its current predicament as the numbers of young people crossing the Channel have spiked this year, while the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) warned councils needed more government cash to fund placements and mental health support in order to enable transfers to take place.
Arrivals of unaccompanied children in Kent
2020: 448 (up to 17 August)
Doubling in numbers
After announcing yesterday that it could no longer take new arrivals, Kent provided more details on the context for that decision, with figures showing the number of new arrivals so far this year has doubled on the same period last year.
It said 448 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children had arrived in the county up to 17 August this year, more than the 12-month totals for each of the previous four years (see box) and compared with 199 up to the end of August in 2019.
The national transfer scheme sets a target for unaccompanied children to make up 0.07% of each local authority’s child population. Kent said that, while it had transferred 319 children and young people from July 2016 to April 2018, it had not done so between then and the end of 2019 as numbers had come down close to its quota (231 children).
But, while 97 have been transferred to other authorities since January 2020, Kent is now caring for 589 children, two-and-a-half times its quota. It said increases in June the Home Office daily rate for care for under-18s for those authorities above the 0.07% threshold had not helped as it created no incentive for those with no or low numbers to take on more children as they continued to receive the lower rate.
The authority has said that the transfer scheme needed to be made mandatory or new ways had to be found to incentivise councils with lower unaccompanied asylum-seeking child populations to take a larger share.
‘Not fully funded’
ADCS president Jenny Coles said: “Local authorities want to play their part in responding to this humanitarian crisis, but in order to do so we need the government’s help and support. Many children have already been settled across the country via the national transfer scheme, however, the challenges we all face, from not being fully funded for our important work in this area and a shortage of suitable placements to the dearth of mental health support, are still the same as in 2016 when the French authorities cleared the camps in Calais.
“We need to work together to ensure that children’s best interests remain at the heart of all arrangements and that local services are safely able to meet any additional demand; children’s lives and futures are at stake.”
The children will be kept in a short-term holding facility within the intake unit. The facility is described by the independent monitoring board that visits people kept there to check on their welfare as for the purpose of “[detaining] people who attempted to gain entry into the UK without detection, usually in vehicles but sometimes in small boats or via the Channel Tunnel”. The board said the “facility consists of a large room designed to hold up to 58 detainees, with a small separate room for families and areas for searching and the storage of property”, and that most people are kept there for a maximum of 36 hours.
Unaccompanied children can be kept in the separate room if required, and the facility also includes accommodation and showers for those who need to stay overnight, while children are also fed and provided with things to occupy them.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented situation and we continue to work closely with the Department for Education and local government on provision for unaccompanied minors.
“Unaccompanied children arriving in Dover are being cared for in the Kent Intake Unit before being placed in appropriate social services care.”