Care for all children in care

Article 39 is working with other charities and social work experts to press for all children in care (up to age 18) to receive care. Current government plans only guarantee this to age 16.

UPDATE, 27 February: we have received data from the Department for Education in response to our freedom of information request. See table below.

Information obtained by Article 39 following an FOI request

The majority of children in care (72%) live with foster carers. A much smaller proportion (8%) of children live in children’s homes. The person responsible for the children’s home must ensure staff follow quality standards, which include that they:

  • Protect and promote each child’s welfare;
  • Treat each child with dignity and respect;
  • Provide personalised care that meets each child’s needs; and
  • Help each child to understand and manage the impact of any experience of abuse or neglect.

Altogether, children’s homes must follow nine quality standards:

  1. The quality and purpose of care standard
  2. The children’s views, wishes and feelings standard
  3. The education standard
  4. The enjoyment and achievement standard
  5. The health and well-being standard
  6. The positive relationships standard
  7. The protection of children standard
  8. The leadership and management standard
  9. The care planning standard

An even smaller number of children (2,790 at 31 March 2019 – 4% of all those in care) live in what’s called semi-independent accommodation (also called supported accommodation). This type of accommodation is currently unregulated, which means providers do not have to register with Ofsted, and there is no independent inspection. Government research (2016) found the main providers of supported accommodation for vulnerable 16 to 25 year-olds to be: housing associations (64%); charities/voluntary organisations (26%); local authorities (5%); and ‘others’ (5%). However, recent Department for Education research found that 77% of semi-independent accommodation for children in care is run by private providers. Local authorities run 10% of provision and charities/voluntary organisations 9%.

Research published by the Department for Education shows that over half (51%) of children in care who live in semi-independent accommodation are from black and minority ethnic communities. There are six times more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children living in semi-independent accommodation than other children in care (36% versus 6%).

The majority of children (70%) in semi-independent accommodation are there under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (a voluntary agreement between a local authority and parents and/or the child). Under a third (29%) of children are the subject of a Care Order – where the local authority has parental responsibility for them.

39% of children enter semi-independent accommodation within a week of being looked after by a local authority.

In February 2020, the Department for Education launched a consultation about semi-independent and independent accommodation for children in care. The proposals are:

  • That local authorities are banned from placing children under the age of 16 in semi-independent and independent accommodation.
  • A new legal definition of ‘care’ (though the consultation does not provide one).
  • A new requirement on local authorities to liaise with local police forces when they place children in care in semi-independent or independent accommodation outside the child’s home area. This is to help councils make a “considered judgement” over whether to place children in these settings, or whether extra support or monitoring are required.
  • New national standards for semi-independent and independent accommodation, with each setting “making it clear that it cannot provide ‘care and accommodation wholly or mainly for children’ as it is not a registered children’s home”. Four standards are proposed: the purpose and intent standard; the quality of accommodation standard; the support standard; and the protection of children and young people standard.
  • Two options for putting the standards into practice – a requirement on local authorities to only place children in care in accommodation which meet the new standards (to be checked when Ofsted inspects councils) or a requirement for providers to register with Ofsted, and to be inspected against the standards.
  • A new requirement on independent reviewing officers to visit children in care to assess whether their placement is meeting their needs.
  • A new power for Ofsted to issue enforcement notices to providers of semi-independent and independent accommodation who illegally provide care and accommodation to children (or act unlawfully in other ways).

Article 39 believes all children in care should receive care wherever they live. All children in care are, by definition, vulnerable. Sixteen and seventeen year-olds are children. The Children Act 1989 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights do not differentiate children’s entitlements to care and protection on the basis of age.

There is an alternative to creating a new form of regulated residential setting for 16 and 17 year-olds: modifications to the Children’s Homes Regulations for establishments which provide care and accommodation wholly to those aged 16 and over. This would recognise and respect teenagers’ growing autonomy while ensuring all children in care receive care. Families do not stop caring for children when they turn 16, and neither should the state. This is consistent with the Conservatives 2019 election manifesto promise: “Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children…”. Love is impossible without care.

Working from the Children’s Homes Regulations would save civil servants from having to come up with a legal definition of care. Were this a straightforward task, a form of words would surely have been included in the consultation document.

Read the consultation document here.
DfE research documents (February 2020) can be found here and here.