Two-year limit urged on legal change to secure accommodation

Article 39 is supporting an amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, which would force a review of expected changes to the law on placing looked after children in secure accommodation in Scotland.

Since the introduction of secure units more than 30 years ago, the law has required that looked after children only be placed outside England and Wales with the consent of the child and their parent (with some limitations). In December, Children’s Minister Edward Timpson tabled amendments to the Bill that would remove this requirement.

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989, which permits the detention on welfare grounds of looked after children in England and Wales, does not apply to Scotland. However, several children have been placed using different legal orders, due to the lack of places available in England. Timpson’s amendment would allow secure accommodation orders to be made under the Children Act 1989, and children from England to be sent to Scotland. The right to secure accommodation reviews has not been extended, so will not apply to children placed in Scotland under the 1989 Act.

New Clause 27, tabled by Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck MP, would bring an end to these changes by 2019. This would allow for consultation with children, families and professionals and independent research.

There has been a 21% reduction in secure accommodation places available in England between 2010 and 2016.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, states:

“Looked after children who end up detained on welfare grounds are extremely vulnerable. Sending them to Scotland because there are insufficient places in England should only be seen by Ministers as an emergency, stop-gap measure that, frankly, has been caused by poor adult planning. In the vast majority of cases, children’s welfare and happiness relies upon them being placed close to their family, friends and professionals who have been supporting them. It is inevitably much more difficult for social workers and independent reviewing officers to meet their obligations to children when they are placed so far away.”

The amendments will be considered by the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons on Tuesday 10th January.