Since September, 2019, it has been illegal for local authorities to place children in care under the age of 16 in unregulated homes. At the same time it has been illegal for companies to run unregistered children’s homes, and although exemptions exist to allow unregulated placements for holidays or leisure activities it is feared that these loopholes are being exploited.
A BBC News investigation has found over 120 cases of children, including one as young as 10, being placed in unregulated homes. These placements included a 12-year-old boy housed for several weeks in a caravan on a campsite in Lancashire, which was located over 100 miles from his school and siblings in Worcestershire. The BBC discovered another case where a 14-year-old boy was in an unregulated placement above a shop in Portsmouth, despite being at risk of jumping from windows. Under Freedom of Information requests the BBC found that more than 50 out of 141 local authorities it contacted had placed children in unregulated homes. Many local authorities refused to provide any data, claiming that this was the personal information of the child
Katherine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Become, the children in care charity, described the state of affairs as “a national scandal”, adding “It’s just tragic to hear that…so many children are being placed in settings which are unsuitable for them.”
According to the Department of Education it is the job of Ofsted to prosecute any company running an unregulated children’s home: “Ofsted can prosecute providers operating as children’s homes without the required registration and it holds local councils to account for the quality of care and accommodation they provide to vulnerable children.” However, while placing under-16s in an unregulated home is now against the law to date no legal action has been taken against any council. Ofsted in turn claims that it has not been given the additional powers it was promised, including being able to fine care providers for any failures.
Another report by What Works for Children’s Social Care found that councils were struggling to manage the children’s homes market and that 44% of local councils had no up-to-date strategy to secure sufficient placements for looked-after children. Only 28% could say whether they were under or over-supplied with residential provision or had factual information on the number of placements in their area. The WWCSC report commented: “It is unclear how LAs can meaningfully engage with providers given that …LAs do not have transparent and/or reliable information around future need.”
It may sound like fun for a child in care to be placed in a caravan or narrowboat but this can hardly be good for their long-term stability or wellbeing. It is clear that a more comprehensive approach involving government, local authorities and private care providers, as well as those within the care system, is required to ease the pressure in the children’s home sector and provide better solutions to children in care.
The Children Law department at Bretherton Law have been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Family and Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field.