Home secretary Theresa May wrote a letter to councils about the voluntary scheme, but later said in Parliament she would be prepared to force councils to comply if they refused.
Home secretary Theresa May has said she will compel local authorities to take in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from other parts of the country if the Immigration Bill passes.
In an amendment to the Bill introduced last week, May set out the arrangements for the transfer of responsibility for these children between local authorities.
Failure to comply
If a local authority in England were to refuse the request of another authority to take in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, the amendment would enable the government to direct the authority to provide written reasons for its failure to comply.
May said if she was not satisfied with an authority’s reasons for refusing to take in its fair share of asylum-seeking children, she would consider directing them to comply with the scheme.
In a letter to local authorities sent three days before the amendment was introduced, the Secretary of State said she hoped the scheme, in place since the summer, to distribute unaccompanied minors across local authorities more equally could remain voluntary.
However, she said she had been considering whether voluntary arrangements should be “backed up by reserve powers”.
During the report stage of the Bill she then made it clear that if councils refused without good reason, they may be directed to comply.
The letter sent to all council leaders set out funding to support the voluntary scheme for the dispersal of unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Kent to other local authorities.
Calls for assistance
The scheme was set up in response to calls from Kent for the other 151 councils in England with social services responsibility to provide assistance under section 27 of the Children Act 1989.
Nearly 1,000 unaccompanied children are now living in Kent, but only 300 have been accepted for transfer to the care of another authority and only 42 have actually be transferred.
Kent under pressure
May said this had placed significant pressure on the council’s social services.
She said: “We recognise the efforts of the 19 local authorities who have responded positively and have accepted children into their care from Kent.
“However, to date only 42 of the nearly 1,000 children in Kent’s care have been transferred to the care of another local authority. This is simply not enough.”
She added she was clear local authorities with the capacity to support unaccompanied asylum seeking children should do so.
May confirmed the continuation of funding amounting to more than £40,000 a year for each child under 16 accepted from Kent, and around £30, 000 for 16- and 17-year-olds.
She also confirmed extra funding of around £200 a week would be made available for local authorities who accept responsibility for children from Kent to fund their future leaving care support.