54% rise in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being looked after in England
The number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being looked after in England has jumped by more than half in the space of a year.
A total of 4,210 children claiming asylum in the UK were reported as being in the care of local authorities as of March 31 2016.
This was up 54% on the previous year, according to new figures from the Department for Education (DfE).
It is also the highest total since current records began in 2004.
Roughly nine in 10 of the children were male, while t hree in four were aged 16 or over.
The highest numbers were reported in areas where there are routes into the UK.
Some two-thirds of all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children were located in London and the South East, while a further 11% were in the East of England.
A total of 865 children, roughly one in five of the total, were in Kent - the largest number for any local authority.
Croydon (430), Surrey (150) and Northamptonshire (140) reported the next highest figures.
The DfE said the rise in asylum-seeking children coming to the UK was the main factor behind an overall increase in the number of children starting to be looked after.
There were 70,440 looked-after children in England as of March 31 2016 - a jump of 1% compared with March 31 2015 and 5% compared with 2012.
Kent County Council's cabinet member for specialist children's services, Peter Oakford, said: "Kent has been at the centre of this issue due to the number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children entering the country through the Port of Dover and through Eurotunnel at Folkestone.
"These arrivals have placed great strain on our various services and we lobbied the Government for a national dispersal scheme so that the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASC) arriving here would be spread more evenly across the UK.
"This scheme was introduced in July and initial progress was very slow, but we have been working closely with the Home Office, and the number of transfers to other local authorities is gradually picking up .
"It is essential that the national transfer scheme delivers, as Kent cannot continue to support the numbers of UASC that have come into our care."