Government’s plans for children in care seriously disappointing

The Department for Education has today announced a public consultation on its plans for children in care who are placed in unregulated accommodation by local authorities. Staff who work in such accommodation are not legally permitted to provide care to children; they may only provide support.

Government proposals include:

  • A ban on under 16 year-olds being placed in unregulated accommodation. This would help around 100 (2%) of the estimated 6,000+ children in care currently living in unregulated accommodation.
  • Standards for providers of unregulated accommodation. It appears these would be non-statutory, which is similar to current arrangements. Local authorities are already required to check that accommodation is suitable before a child is moved there.
  • Ensuring children get the right support from their independent reviewing officers (this is already in law).
  • Local authorities to make contact with police forces before they place a child in unregulated accommodation.
  • Ofsted to have new powers to make sure children’s homes are not being run illegally.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“Today’s announcement does not deal with the fundamental issue that we have over 6,000 children in care in England who are presently, by law, not allowed to experience care. Ministers have so far only come up with a proposal to help 2% of these children. That’s just not good enough.

“It’s right that no under 16-year-old should be placed in unregulated accommodation, but 16 and 17 year-olds have the right to be cared for too. These are children in the care of the state, and many will be the subject of a care order – made by a family court because they have suffered (or are at risk of suffering) significant harm. It beggars belief that such children are deemed not to need care.”

“The Office for National Statistics reported at the end of last year that more than a quarter of adults aged 20-34 years still live with their parents. Yet here we have Ministers saying children in the care of the state can manage without care from the age of 16.”

UPDATE: Since this morning’s announcement, the Government has published research on the characteristics and circumstances of children in care who currently live in semi-supported accommodation (and those who live independently). These are all children who are not receiving any day-to-day care where they live. The research shows:

  • More than half of children in semi-supported (unregulated) accommodation are from black and minority ethnic communities;
  • Whereas 6% of all children in care are living in semi-supported accommodation, 36% of those in this setting are unaccompanied asylum seeking children;
  • 29% of children in semi-supported (unregulated) accommodation are the subject of a care order – meaning the local authority has parental responsibility for them.

In response to serious media revelations, particularly a BBC Newsnight investigation, Article 39 convened a national seminar with The Care Leavers’ Association and the National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers last month. We are now working on a proposal which will ensure all children in care receive care. This would involve modifications to children’s homes regulations, which would allow older teenagers to still receive care while their growing autonomy is nurtured and respected. Please contact us if you want to be involved.