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Consultation launched on national standards for unregulated accommodation for children in care

A consultation proposing national standards that all unregulated settings accommodating 16- and 17-year-old children in and leaving care would have to meet has been launched by the government.

Following the government’s commitment earlier this year that children in care under the age of 16 would not be placed in unregulated accommodation, the consultation has been launched with a view to boosting quality and ensuring consistency of provision across the country.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Every young person in care deserves to live in accommodation that meets their needs and keeps them safe – anything less is unacceptable, and so continuing to prioritise children in care or leaving care is absolutely vital.”

The consultation on national standards, which will run for eight weeks until 19 July, will consider the views of children in care, care leavers, councils and experts and leaders in the sector to raise the bar for so-called unregulated provision.

The proposals aim to ensure provision is high quality, providing support and accommodation for older children in or leaving care who are ready to develop their independence in preparation for adult life. The consultation will seek views on how Ofsted should regulate the quality of that support and accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds and intervene where necessary.

However, the government is facing legal action over the move to ensure children under 16 are protected but failing to include young people aged 16 and over.

Article 39 has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the secondary legislation claiming the legal change will leave thousands of children in care aged 16 and 17 without protection, which is discriminatory and an injustice to older children in care.

“We cannot stand by and watch the government create a two-tier care system for children which discriminates on the basis of age. Families don’t expect our children to go without care and fend for themselves from the age of 16, and neither should the care system. The majority of children in care have already endured great suffering; we should be ensuring they receive as much love, care and adult help as we can possibly give them, not pushing them into so-called trainer flats, bedsits and hostels before they’ve even finished their GCSEs,” said Carolyne Willow, director of the children’s rights charity Article 39.

As the government has launched the eight-week consultation on standards for unregulated accommodation for children in care aged 16 and 17, Article 39 have slammed the proposals for “deliberately omitting any requirement to provide care to children”.

The charity adds that the “draft care-less standards” follow an article in the Mail on Sunday that there were nearly 1,300 allegations of abuse against children in unregulated accommodation over the past two years, with almost one in five relating to sexual abuse and exploitation, and there were also allegations of physical abuse and trafficking.

Carolyne Willow, Article 39’s Director, said: “The proposed care-less standards are woefully inadequate compared to the existing quality standards for children’s homes. They miss out any requirement to provide care to children in care, even though we know that 4 in 10 teenagers who enter care are put straight into unregulated accommodation. Children are not coming into care simply for a roof over their head; they need care and nurturing to help them recover from past abuse, neglect and trauma as well as to help them do well in their studies and prepare for a good future life."

“Ministers have deliberately omitted care so that providers of unregulated accommodation don’t have to follow the children’s homes quality standards. We recommended having a single set of quality standards, with possible modifications for homes which wholly or mainly care for older children. The government chose to sacrifice care and to introduce legislation which only guarantees care to children aged 15 and younger. This is discriminatory and puts children at risk, which is why we have applied to the High Court for a judicial review."

“This is running a care system for very vulnerable children on the cheap. The majority of unregulated accommodation is run for profit, and you can see why companies if given a choice of having to meet nine quality standards and provide care to children, or follow these four standards, would choose the latter. We are a wealthy country that has the means to care for and protect children; this is such a sad development.”

The vast majority of children who live in unregulated accommodation - around 6,000 at any one time - are aged 16 and 17.

The government consultation – which runs from 24 May to 19 July – is calling for views, particularly from care experienced children and young people, on the following:

  • How do we tell the difference between children’s homes and independent and semi-independent accommodation?
  • What should we call this type of accommodation?
  • What should be included in the new standards?
  • How should Ofsted make sure the accommodation is following the new standards?

Alongside the consultation, education secretary Gavin Williamson also announced funding of £51m to help thousands of vulnerable young people in the care system.

These programmes include:

  • £33 million continued investment in ‘Staying Put’, which helps looked after children stay with their foster carers after their 18th birthday if they wish to.
  • £3.6 million to extend the ‘Staying Close’ pilot which gives extra support for young people leaving residential care.
  • £12m for councils to continue to provide Personal Advisors to support care leavers up to the age of 25.
  • £2.7 million to provide intensive support to care leavers at high risk of homelessness, as part of the government’s Rough Sleeping strategy.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, co-chairing the Care Leaver Covenant Board, said: “The £50m for care leavers that we are announcing today will ensure that vulnerable young people get the necessary support and security that is fundamental to their future. As we level up across the country, this government will do everything in its power to ensure that no young person is left behind and everyone is given the opportunity to be author of their own life story.”

Consultation is available here

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