Migrant children dumped at the side of the road are causing a funding crisis for local councils financially responsible for the children until they turn 25. The Local Government Association has called on the government to cover the costs following a doubling in the number of children taken into care owing to the Calais crisis.
Kent County Council has been particularly hard hit, as it is responsible for child migrants entering the country through the Channel Tunnel. Some of the older teenagers have been housed at a former old people’s home in Ashford, but the majority of children are being placed with foster carers, both through the council and private agencies, the Times has reported.
Compass Fostering, one such private agency, has reported a 500 per cent increase in the number of asylum seeking children it has dealt with in the last three months, compared with the same period last year. It had 140 referrals in July, mostly from Kent, London, West Sussex and the West Midlands – double the number recorded in May, and more than four times as many as it had in July last year.
Bernie Gibson, who runs Compass, said that children were often abandoned on motorways, “allowing drivers who may have smuggled the children into the country to avoid arrest”. She added: “Many children don’t speak English and clearly they are traumatised by what they have come from. It’s time to focus on the right of these children to a caring and loving home.”
The vast majority of the children were boys – only two were girls, and most were aged between 14 and 16, although the youngest was just 12. They were predominantly from Afghanistan, Syria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Albania, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Vietnam and Morocco.
The Local Government Association has appealed to the government to reimburse councils, as once a child is in the system, the council who registered them is responsible for their full costs, including fostering, education including university fees, and housing, up until the age of 25 – even if the child moves to another region.
Cllr David Simmonds, Deputy Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils are rallying together to help deal with the current emergency situation, but with around a third of migrants aged under 18, the LGA is calling on government to commit to reimburse the costs in full as the strain on already-stretched children’s services budgets risks becoming unsustainable.”
He said the situation for councils which cover major sea and airports is becoming “unsustainable”, as some councils have seen a doubling in the number of child migrants entering Britain.
He added: “In times of particularly high demand, councils work together to ensure that no young person is left with nowhere to go, but the current situation is placing unprecedented pressure on an already overburdened system. With the well-publicised issues around the Channel Tunnel, both local and central government need to work together to identify long term solutions to ensure that local communities do not have to cope with all of the pressures caused by an international problem.”
Peter Oakford, Kent County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the council has so far managed to place every child in its care, but that it is now struggling to cope.