16 year-olds can be placed in secure accommodation

The High Court has confirmed that a 16 or 17 year-old who is being looked after by a local authority under Section 20(3) of the Children Act 1989 can, in principle, be admitted to secure accommodation.

Section 20(3) places a duty on local authorities to accommodate a child who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare would be seriously prejudiced without such accommodation. The 1989 Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18.

Regulations relating to secure accommodation – children’s homes which deprive children in care of their liberty – specify that this kind of provision cannot be used with children and young people aged between 16 and 21 years, who have been placed in a children’s home as a means of safeguarding or promoting their welfare. However, this relates to Section 20(5) of the 1989 Act, which gives local authorities discretionary powers to accommodate young people into early adulthood.

The case before the High Court concerned a 16 year-old who was at that time detained in a mental health setting due to severe self-harm. The local authority sought clarification of their legal power to apply for a secure accommodation order once she was released from hospital, given she was now aged 16. The girl had been accommodated by the local authority since the age of 14.

Judge Bellamy said local authorities would be permitted to apply for a secure accommodation order in respect of 16 and 17 year-olds looked after under Section 20(3). So once the girl is released from hospital, the local authority can seek to place her in a secure children’s home.

There were 82 children held in secure accommodation on welfare grounds in England and Wales on 31 March 2015.

Read the judgment here.