Category: Supported accommodation

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.

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.