Deprivation of liberty orders placed on children in care have tripled in the last two years, an investigation by BBC News has revealed.
The investigation showed that deprivation of liberty orders are increasingly being used to detain children in homes when suitable accommodation cannot be found.
Director of children’s rights charity Article 39 Carolyne Willow slammed the lack of appropriate placements for children and young people as an “absolute disgrace”.
“It demonstrates wilful neglect at the highest level and a readiness to permit the decaying of children's services.
“You don't have to be a child welfare expert to be able to imagine the risks of putting an individual child into accommodation where there's no other children… where everything you do is monitored and supervised, where every aspect of ordinary childhood experiences are taken from you," she said.
Such orders “are meant to be last resort measures, they're not meant to be regular, routine ways of protecting children", she added.
While deprivation of liberty orders are often used for adults who lack the mental capacity to consent to changes in their care, such as elderly people with Alzheimer's, BBC News has learned they are increasingly being used for children and young people on safeguarding grounds.
A Freedom of Information request from 91 out of 170 local authorities in England and Wales revealed that the number of deprivation of liberty orders for children and young people went from 43 in 2016-17 to 134 in 2018-19 – with the vast majority being for children in care.
More than a quarter of orders granted over the last five years were made primarily because of concerns about the child or young person going missing, without relating to mental capacity.
Restrictions under the deprivation of liberty orders may include detention in a house or taking away a mobile phone. They are commonly secured from the High Court or Court of Protection by a local authority in charge of the care of the child.
BBC News reported that one High Court judge complained of being “almost drowned out” by applications at that time and said he was increasingly concerned they were “operating to bypass" safeguards provided by secure accommodation.
President of the Association of Directors of Children's Services Jenny Coles said investment is required, not only in secure accommodation, but a range of specialised placements that cater to the dangers now faced by vulnerable children.
“The children, young people, that are coming into care over the last three or four years, their needs and their experiences have changed", she said. "[These range] from sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, gangs, county lines.
“If we had that broader range [of placements], that was meeting complexity, we wouldn't have to potentially use those orders as we have been using them."
In a statement, a government spokesperson said:
“Supporting the most vulnerable children in the country is a priority for this government, and every young person in care deserves appropriate, safe accommodation that supports them in the best way possible.
“Local authorities have a duty to make sure there are sufficient places, including secure care, for their looked-after children.
“We have invested £40m in supporting councils in England to improve and expand the secure provision available, and we have consulted on radical reforms to the quality of independent and semi-independent placements to make sure the right checks and balances are in place,” the statement concluded.