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Government to legislate to ban placement of under-16s in unregulated provision

The government is to legislate to enact a ban on the placement of children in care under the age of 16 in unregulated provision.

Following a consultation, education secretary Gavin Williamson said it was clear that there needed to be “action in this area”. He added that he could not imagine a circumstance whereby a child under 16-years-old should be placed in a setting that does not provide care and is intended to support young people to live independently.

The vast majority of respondents agreed with his position, he said, and as a result the government would be moving forward with a ban on the placement of under 16s in this provision, with this coming into effect in September 2021.

“These measures will ensure that no child is placed in a setting that cannot meet their needs and keep them safe and give us the right checks and balances in the system to enable this and to take action where there are shortfalls,” said the consultation response.

Gavin Williamson added that every child deserves a stable loving home where they feel safe and supported to thrive and achieve the best possible outcomes in life and this is all the more important for children in the care system. Children and young people in care have often had traumatic and challenging experiences and the system should not only improve their lives, but give them the highest chances of success.

“This means having dedicated foster carers, excellent children’s homes and high quality independent and semi-independent settings for older children. We need a range of options for care placements and support that reflects the diverse needs of children in care and care leavers,” he added.

Children in care and care leavers aged 16 and 17 now depend on these settings in similar volumes to children’s homes as a result of more older children being in the care system now than has ever been the case previously and these types of settings are often the right choice for 16 and 17 year olds. They can offer a place to live with more independence, and when combined with the right level of high quality support to meet the needs of the older children placed there, they play a vital role in the care system, said Mr Williamson. However, that is not the case for under 16’s.

“Local authorities should continue to ensure that placement decisions consider the individual needs of children. A ban on the placement of u16s in this provision must not create a default position by which children are moved into independent and semi-independent provision on their 16th birthday. Many of these young people will have needs that are better met in a foster care placement or a children’s homes, and young people should be placed in these settings where that is the case. Placement stability and continuity is often critical in this regard and children and young people should not be moved to different placements unnecessarily,” said Mr Williamson.

While there is already a lot of high quality independent and semi-independent provision, as emerged in the consultation responses, it is not consistent enough and there are too many examples of children and young people being placed in settings that do not meet their needs and, in some cases, do not keep them safe, which is unacceptable, the consultation response states.

The government has pledged to:

- Legislate to enact a ban on the placement of children under the age of 16, coming into effect in September 2021.

- Issue a consultation on national standards and Ofsted regulation in 2021.

- Proceed with legislating at the earliest opportunity, to give Ofsted additional powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered providers

“We believe that the policy measures covered in this government response represent an ambitious reform programme to improve the lives and experiences of young people in independent and semi-independent living arrangements,” the consultation concluded.

ADCS President Jenny Coles said: “No child should live in unsafe, unsuitable accommodation and we should be working collectively to maintain a sharp focus on improving standards for all children in care. Today’s announcement on unregulated independent and semi-independent settings adds to the local arrangements which local authorities already have in place to quality assure and monitor these settings.

“The ban on under-16s being placed in unregulated provision will have wider implications in terms of placement sufficiency which local authorities have long been grappling with. Finding the right placement at the right time for the growing number of children in our care is a priority for all local authorities. However, we face a national shortage of foster carers and a lack of suitable regulated homes.

“The government’s commitment to additional funding to increase children’s homes provision is welcome but we need immediate up-front investment to address some of the sufficiency issues. The sector also needs clarity as to how the proposals set out in today’s announcement will be funded.

“Banning unregulated provision for under 16’s is a simple solution to a complex set of problems. ADCS believes regulatory reform is essential in addressing these issues. There is also a need for joint working across government to improve access to mental health provision for vulnerable children and young people, investment in the workforce, and to address profit making by private equity firms. The recently launched Care Review presents a clear opportunity to address these issues so that all children can have the best possible outcomes in life,” she added.

Cllr Judith Blake, Chair of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: “Today’s announcements are positive steps towards ensuring that all children in care live in good quality homes that meet their needs and help them to thrive.

“A key driver for the increasing use of unregulated placements for children under 16 is a lack of suitable regulated homes. The government’s commitment to funding to increase children’s homes provision, which we have previously called for, is therefore a helpful recognition of the pressures on placements.

“However, this funding will not be available immediately, and councils are keen to work with government to quickly develop the places they will need to meet these requirements.

“We remain convinced of the need for wider regulatory reform to deliver the homes children need, alongside investment in workforce and support services, and urge the Chair of the independent review of children’s social care to look closely at these issues,” she concluded.

Reforms to unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers

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