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Applications for children to be deprived of liberty rockets by 462%

The number of applications to deprive children of their liberty has soared by 462% in three years, according to research by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

Despite the numbers rising rapidly, of the 420 children referred for a place in a secure children’s home for welfare reasons, only 209 received a placement.

Lisa Harker, director of Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, said: “Something is clearly not working. The use of the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is intended as a last resort, yet last year hundreds of children were deprived of their liberty in this way, often ending up in caravans or holiday lets without the properly regulated care they so desperately need.”

Children in England and Wales can be deprived of their liberty for welfare, youth justice or mental health reasons, and placed in secure children’s homes, young offender institutions, secure training centres or mental health in-patient wards.

When a place for a child cannot be found in any of these settings, either because their needs are deemed too challenging, or because there aren’t enough beds available, the High Court can use the powers under its inherent jurisdiction to deprive the child of their liberty in an unregulated placement.

Analysis by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory found that in the three years to 2020/21, the number of applications made to the High Court to deprive children of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction increased from 108 to 579 per year, an increase of 462%.

In 2020/21 these applications outnumbered applications under s.25 of the Children Act 1989 for places in secure children’s homes for the first time.

The analysis reveals marked similarities in the early life experiences and needs of children deprived of their liberty for welfare and youth justice reasons. Children entering both welfare and youth justice secure settings are likely to have experienced trauma and disadvantage from early childhood, and these experiences are likely to lead to difficulties and risks arising from mental health problems, such as challenging and offending behaviours, substance misuse, self-harm, educational needs, and risk of sexual and criminal exploitation.

Lisa Harker added: “These are the most vulnerable children in our society, but at this point they simply disappear from view, with no data recording what happens to them.

“We need an urgent rethink about how we improve the lives of the most vulnerable children in our society, and to be clear about the purpose of depriving young people of their liberty,” she concluded.

What do we know about children and young people deprived of their liberty in England and Wales? An evidence review

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