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Ban on under-16s being placed in unregulated accommodation proposed

Minimum standards to be introduced for unregulated accommodation

Putting children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal if new plans announced by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson become law.

Minimum standards will also be introduced for unregulated accommodation, which provides accommodation but not care. For an article on unregulated accommodation, recently published in Family Law Week, click here.

A recent BBC Newsnight investigation into unregulated accommodation shone a spotlight on the expanding market for semi-independent (also known as 16+ or supported) accommodation, for adolescents for whom it has been difficult or impossible to identify other places such as registered children's homes or families for them to live with. The Department for Education has now pubished research to understand the increase in use of unregulated and unregistered provision for children in care and care leavers, and concerns about quality.

In November 2019 the President of the Family Division issued Practice Guidance concerning children living in unregistered children's homes.

Proposals to stop children in care from being placed in inappropriate accommodation will be published as part of a consultation, tackling growing concerns about the number of under-16s being left at risk of exploitation.

Under the new proposals, the Government would also introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation to improve the quality and security of the placements. This will mean that where this is used appropriately for young people aged 16 and over, safety and quality is prioritised.

The consultation, which will close on 8 April 2020, also proposes new legal powers for Ofsted to take measures against illegal unregistered providers – those providing care for children without being registered to do so – and new measures requiring councils and local police forces to work together before placements in unregulated settings are made out of area, putting the interests of young people at the heart of decisions.

This consultation has been launched to take action as a matter of urgency, ahead of the wider care review promised in the Conservative Party's manifesto. The Education Secretary confirmed that this review will be independently led, and look widely across children's social care with the aim of better supporting, protecting and improving the outcomes of vulnerable children and young people. More details of the review will be announced in due course.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

"There are no circumstances where a child under 16 should be placed in accommodation that does not keep them safe. That is unacceptable and I am taking urgent action to end this practice and drive up the quality of care provided to all vulnerable children.

"Social workers and council chiefs have to make difficult decisions about the children in their care, so it's important that we agree an ambitious approach to these important reforms to bring about lasting change in children's social care."

The consultation will run for eight weeks, allowing the sector to have a say in the way measures are brought forward, including:

More than 6,000 looked-after children and young people in England are living in unregulated accommodation, with up to 100 under 16s living in unregulated provision at any one time.

Under the plans, legislation will be amended so that Ofsted can take legal action before prosecution and issue enforcement notices, which will result in illegal providers either being forced to close, register or face a penalty.

The consultation follows a letter sent to all local authorities by the Education Secretary in November, setting out his concerns about under 16s being placed in this provision and asking them to make sure that all children in their area are in safe and suitable accommodation.

Mark Russell, Chief Executive at The Children's Society, said:

"The numbers of children being placed in unregulated accommodation is on the rise, making this consultation both timely and essential. We are pleased the government is looking carefully at this issue and recognising the wider issues at play, such as the shortage of places where they're most needed."

For the full announcement, click here. For the consultation document, click here. For an article on unregulated accommodation by Chris MacDonald, Children's Guardian at CAFCASS, click here. For the BBC Newsnight investigation into unregulated accommodation, click here. For newly published research in use of unregulated and unregistered provision for children in care, click here. For the President of the Family Division's Practice Guidance concerning children living in unregistered children's homes, click here. For a response by the Children's Commissioner for England to the announcement, click here.