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Re G (Young Person: Threat to Life: Unavailability of Secure Placement) [2021] EWHC 2066 (Fam)

A judgment surrounding the plight of G, an extremely vulnerable child whose life is at risk but who – like many other young people who require specialist secure placements – cannot be so placed given the scarcity of such resources [8].

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Background

G is an extremely vulnerable 15-year-old who is currently living with his mother and younger siblings. He has had a 'troubled and traumatic' childhood which has included repeatedly absconding from home, being out of the education system for two years, involvement in serious offending, and affiliations with known gangs. He is recognised by the National Referral Mechanism as a victim of criminal exploitation [1]. There is a serious and credible threat to his life and an 'Osman' warning was issued to him by police. Cobb J was satisfied that G's life is in real and immediate danger [2].

The applications

The Local Authority considered G needed to be in secure accommodation or in a highly protected environment where he could be shielded from harm and which would reduce the risks to himself and others in the community. It also considered there were grounds on which it could and should acquire PR [3].

On 15 July, applications for an ICO and a secure accommodation order were made and listed before Peel J on the following day. Directions were given and the applications adjourned for a short time [4]. Peel J requested the attendance of the Secretary of State for Education and the Children's Commissioner at the hearing [15].

On 21 July, the parties appeared before Cobb J. The Local Authority said it felt unable to pursue the applications as it could not identify a safe or secure placement for G or effectively exercise PR while he remained living at home [4]. Cobb J was satisfied that the Local Authority had made enquiries of more than 250 establishments in England and Scotland [5].

The Local Authority had considered whether it could create a bespoke secure or protected placement for G in accordance with its duties under s.22C(5)/ s.22C(6)(d) and s.22D(2), but the proposal was not advanced for 2 reasons:


(i) the Local Authority felt unable to put such a bespoke placement together in a short space of time due to what it would require; and

(ii) such a placement would not be regulated and would become unlawful within the next few weeks [6].

Implications of the current situation

Cobb J stated that 'The intolerable consequence of the current situation is that the State […] is wholly unable to ensure the safety of G who is not yet 16 years of age, notwithstanding its positive obligation under Article 2 of the ECHR' [9]. He highlighted how G's situation is far from unique and referenced cases with similar characteristics from recent months [10].

Despite the challenges already being faced, Cobb J said they are only likely to become 'significantly greater' following the implementation of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/161) which will have the effect of prohibiting the placement of looked after children under the age of 16 in 'other arrangements' settings [11]. 

The Secretary of State for Education/ The Children's Commissioner

A letter was sent prior to the hearing on behalf of the Secretary of State. It discussed the need for the Local Authority to fulfil their 'sufficiency duty', but also expressed sympathy regarding the challenges in the case and the difficulty in commissioning suitable accommodation for some children with complex and very high needs [15]. There was also mention of work being undertaken with Local Authorities and others across Government to address the situation [15]. Cobb J stated the proposals would not yield a placement for G [16].

The representative of the Children's Commissioner indicated her intention to discuss G's situation with the Independent Children's Homes Commissioner and to pursue her own enquires with the SWCU [17].

The outcome

The Local Authority was directed to prepare a statement urgently setting out in detail its proposals to try and keep G safe while he remains at home. The applications were adjourned until 26 July.

Case summary by Diana Panizzon-Pineda, Pupil, St John's Chambers

For full case, please see BAILII