The group, chaired by Sir Alan Wood, met for the first time last week and is “essentially providing expert advice to supplement the consultation”, he said.
Confirming the mandate of the group, which was first revealed by CYP Now last week, Wood added: “The purpose of the group is to discuss key questions and field problems that may arise once the consultation has finished.”
“We will only meet probably three times,” Wood said, “the idea we have been meeting in secret is somewhat fanciful.”
Other members of the group, including Ofsted and the Local Government Association also denied claims over secrecy.
Yvette Stanley, director of social care at Ofsted, said on Twitter that Ofsted had “been invited to and attended” the meeting.
She added: “It's not our understanding that it was 'secret'. Agree involving care-experienced people in developing proposals to strengthen oversight for children living away from home is key.”
We want our children to have the best possible care, according to their individual needs, whatever their age. No child should lose their right to care as a result of these proposals. We will respond in detail to the consultation.— Yvette Stanley (@YvetteStanley18) March 9, 2020
A spokesman for the LGA also confirmed the organisation’s involvement in the meeting.
A tweet from the LGA’s official Twitter account said: “We went to a meeting to discuss the various implications of different proposals in the consultation – not a secret group though.”
The tweet added that the meeting is “part of wider consultation with various groups”.
Good morning, we went to a meeting to discuss the various implications of different proposals in the consultation - not a secret group though! We understand this was part of wider consultation with various groups e.g. local gov, care experienced people— LGAChildren (@LGAChildren) March 9, 2020
The group is made up of directors of children’s services, Ofsted, children’s home providers and voluntary organisations with DfE officials present at meetings, Wood said.
It will discuss issues including how best to regulate currently unregulated accommodation and the sufficiency of placements for under-16s with complex needs who have been placed in such provision.
Wood said there was “a question mark” over how regulation will be carried out despite DfE proposals suggesting the creation of national minimum standards.
“The options we are looking at could be national standards but this could mean Ofsted having to look at taking on a whole load of new inspectors as it would leave them overstretched. Another option would be to have a system where providers sign up to standards and request inspections as a lot are currently hiring private companies to do.
“A lot of these providers are very good and we want to enable them to continue to provide a good standard of accommodation and stop those who are not providing provision to a good standard,” he added.
Wood added that it was not in the group’s mandate to discuss the involvement of care-experienced people in the review.
He said the DfE was in talks with children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield over this aspect of the consultation and added: “The commissioner is working on a report based on experiences of people who have lived in such accommodation and who have experienced the care system. As a group, we have not been asked to come up with any proposals surrounding the involvement of people in care or care-experienced people.”
A spokesman for the commissioner’s office said: “We have discussed with the DfE the need to ensure that the direct experiences of children in care play a prominent part in the drawing up of new guidelines. We are also currently finalising a report into the use of unregulated accommodation, which we will be publishing shortly."
Last week, former children’s minister Tim Loughton submitted a written parliamentary question “to ask the Secretary of State for Education, who the members of the working group on draft quality standards for unregulated supported accommodation for children in care and leaving care are”.
A group of charities and organisations specialising in the children’s social care sector have rejected government proposals to ban the use of unregulated accommodation solely for under-16s.
Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said: “We reject this cut-off point of 16. All children in care should live in families or residential settings where they receive care.
“By its own published statistics, this government move will help fewer than 100 children in care.”
Figures show that there were 6,190 children in care living in unregulated accommodation on 31 March 2019. Of these, 90 were aged under 16 years.