Kent County Council budget: ‘We are too conveniently placed’ admits finance chief as fostering crisis worsens
06:00 13 October 2016
Council bosses feel Kent is taking an unfair proportion of children from both the Jungle in Calais and London boroughs
A fostering crisis is emerging as a major threat to Kent County Council’s budget, finance chiefs have revealed.
Speaking ahead of the launch of a consultation into the authority’s attempt to balance the books, council chiefs say Kent having to take the vast majority of unaccompanied child asylum seekers that arrive in Britain means resources are being stretched.
They insisted the government’s current voluntary dispersal system is not helping in easing the pressure, though one senior figure did suggest a mandatory system could be on the cards in the near future.
“We will be a reception centre, so if so many per week come over from Calais, go into the reception centre, we’ll assess them over 7-14 days and they’ll be dispersed to wherever is appropriate for them,” Andy Wood, corporate director of finance and procurement, told KoS.
“If they’ve got family elsewhere, say in Birmingham, they usually still come to us first.
“We’re fully expecting the Home Office to recognise the problems we face; there’s very frequent correspondence between us and them telling them they’ve got to pay up.
“They need a dispersal system that’s going to work and they say they will make it a compulsory system.
“You can make that but who decides which authority is going to take the child?
“We’re well versed in looking after these kids, but some haven’t got any, they haven’t got the infrastructure in place, and that takes money to set up.”
Cabinet member and deputy leader John Simmonds added: “Kent has very much been on the firing line with regards to looking after children.
“The amount of agency foster workers we have to use does push the budget up quite considerably.
“We’re too conveniently placed - they say ‘Kent you look after them and we’ll sort a disposal programme’.
“It all looks very good on paper but unless the government gives some incentives to other authorities, why should they?”
However, the difficulty doesn’t come purely from numbers of asylum seeking children from Calais, but also a population overspill from the capital, where London boroughs place their children in Kent.
A notable recent case was when Redbridge council outbit Canterbury council for 200 homes at the old Howe Barracks in the city, leaving local families on the authority’s waiting list having to remain patient for even longer.
Cllr Simmonds said: “We are a convenient dropping off point for Londoners - we’ve got about 1,500 London children located in Kent.
“That puts pressure on fostering and means we struggle to recruit and have to go out to agencies which cost twice as much so that brings in a lot of pressure.
“London boroughs are responsible for the pure social services, but we’ve got to educate them and it takes up foster carers from Kent.
“Our bone of contention is the London authorities get up to two-and-a-half times more per adult, per child than we get in their budget, so no wonder they can afford this.”
Mr Wood added: “We’ve got 1,500 kids who we have to care for because their parents can’t and you think ‘I’d love to live in a county where we didn’t have to look after any kids’, that’d save us £120m but it’s not going to happen.
“If we could get 100 children out of care, that would save £5m, whereas to find £5m by cutting services.
“There’s only so many people in the county who want to foster kids.
“Half of them will go to fostering agencies because they get paid more, so we’ve exhausted our supply, pretty much exhausted the fostering agency supply - where do you go if you’ve got no foster carers?
“You’ve got to put them in residential care, which is not right for a kid and very expensive.”