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Children’s Commissioner calls for ban on using unregulated accommodation for under 18s in care

Anne Longfield, Children's Commissioner for England, is calling for the Government to change the law to stop councils placing under 18s in care in unregulated accommodation. The change would see all children in care who need a residential placement housed in accommodation regulated under the same standards as children's homes, and would put an end to 16 and 17 year olds being placed in bedsits, hostels and caravans.

The call comes as the Children's Commissioner publishes a report, Unregulated: Children in care living in semi-independent accommodation, revealing how thousands of children in care are living in unregulated independent or semi-independent accommodation. These settings are not inspected and children living there often go without regular support from adults. This accommodation can range from a flat to a hostel or bedsit, and in the worst cases caravans, tents and in one case even a barge. The Children's Commissioner stresses that these looked after children are entitled to 'support' but not 'care', and as a result are too often being left to fend for themselves, with minimal support, for all but a few hours a week.

The report reveals that one in eight children in care spent some time in an unregulated placements in 2018-19, and that the number is increasing due to the lack of capacity in children's homes and an outdated belief that children aged just 16 should be ready to become independent. The Children's Commissioner's report highlights the experiences of some of these children. While the Children's Commissioner's Office did hear from children about high quality settings and the support they received from staff, they also heard some shocking stories, including from children with mental health, self-harm or drug issues who became victims of exploitation and abuse while living in unregulated accommodation.

The report also shows how some providers are making extraordinary profits from unregulated accommodation. It highlights how many desperate councils are paying thousands of pounds a week to private providers who are then providing poor quality accommodation and little in the way of support to often very vulnerable children. Some of these providers are also avoiding routine procedures designed to keep children safe, including DBS checks.

Earlier this year the Government recognised the scale of the problem and promised much-needed reform. Its proposals include a ban on the use of unregulated placements for under 16s and introducing new national standards, potentially enforced by Ofsted via a new inspection regime. While the Government's commitment to reform is encouraging, the Children's Commissioner does not believe the proposals go far enough to provide every child in care up to the age of 18 with the protection they need.

As well as calling for the use of semi-independent and independent provision to be made illegal for all children in care, the report makes a number of recommendations, including:

For the report, click here. For the response of The Children's Society to the Children's Commissioner's call, click here.