(Mar. 11, 2021) In response to a consultation (survey) launched on February 12, 2021, on the provision of unregulated accommodations for children in care, England’s government recently announced its intention to amend regulations to prohibit children under 16 years old from being placed in independent or semi-independent accommodations. This type of accommodation is not required to be registered or inspected under the Care Standards Act 2000. The government stated that it will amend the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 to insert a condition that children placed under the Children Act 1989 in “other arrangement settings” that are independent or semi-independent accommodations must be over 16 years of age. The changes will impact approximately 100 children under the age of 16 housed in this type of accommodation. If the amendment progresses through Parliament, the ban will enter into force in September 2021.
Independent and semi-independent accommodations are designed to assist older children living in care develop independence before leaving the system, but during the years 2018 to 2019, 660 children younger than 16 years old—some reportedly as young as 11 years old—had been placed in this type of accommodation and were vulnerable to harm and exploitation. The amendment was introduced as a result of the findings of a research report commissioned by the Department of Education and the subsequent consultation, in which the government determined that
while local authorities have local measures in place to quality assure the provision, the quality of the provision is variable, and does not always meet the needs of young people and keep them safe. We know that young people placed in this provision are more likely to go missing and can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
In addition to the new prohibition, the Education Secretary announced that
plans will be developed to support local authorities in creating more places in children’s homes, backed by additional investment, building on the £24 million [about US$33.3 million] announced at the Spending Review and recognising that there are pressures on some local authorities to find the right placement for a child.
The amendments are one part of a multifaceted approach to improving the standards for children in care that are part of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto. The Education Secretary also announced that he would introduce legislation to give Ofsted, a non-ministerial department that inspects public educational institutions and services for children and young people, power to take action against children’s homes that operate without the proper registration. This would enable Ofsted to act quickly to close down these types of homes and prosecute providers for operating them illegally. The government also announced that it plans to consult on national standards for the unregulated accommodations for 16 to 17 year olds in care to help ensure quality and consistency across the country.
A wider independent review of children’s social care was announced on January 15, 2021. This review will take a broad look into the entire social care system for children across England with the aim of improving the services for all and increasing the attainment targets for children who have been in care. Currently, children who have been in care form a significant percentage of the homeless, imprisoned, and unemployed population, and only a small number continue on in higher education.