Campaigners slam proposed quality standards for supported accommodation

Emily Harle
Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Proposed quality standards for unregulated supported accommodation for 16- and 17-year-olds, set out by the Department for Education as part of a public consultation, have been criticised by campaigners.

 Campaigners have desribed the proposals as a 'travesty' for the sector. Picture: Adobe Stock
Campaigners have desribed the proposals as a 'travesty' for the sector. Picture: Adobe Stock

The consultation proposes a range of new standards in a bid to address the quality of supported accommodation for looked-after children aged 16 to 17, after a ban was introduced on such provision for under-16s in September last year.

The standards consulted on include:

  • Providing children with 24-hour access to help in crisis or emergency situations.

  • Tailored support to meet children’s needs, with encouragement to take a lead in determining this support.

  • Placements to be warm and homely, with support for children to live “semi-independently”. This includes lockable bedrooms, internet access, mobile reception and a telephone.

  • Accommodation must be monitored by the registered provider.

It is also proposed that accommodations will be inspected by Ofsted “at least once every three years”, and that local authorities will be unable to place children in properties which have not been registered with Ofsted.

However, the consultation confirms that only a “representative sample of a provider’s settings” will be subject to inspection.

The proposed standards, which DfE claims will “ensure all children in care live in safe homes”, have been criticised by campaigners, who have labelled the proposals a “travesty” for the sector.

Among campaigners’ concerns is that the proposals do not include any requirement to provide day-to-day care for looked-after children aged 16 and 17.

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said this will “entrench in law and policy a two-tier care system based on age".

Willow is among campaigners who have long-argued that the ban on supported accommodation – which does not provide wraparound care – for under-16s, should be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds.

She said: “Since the law change last year, there's already been a significant increase with four in 10 older children in care now living in non-care settings. If we continue like this, within a decade accommodation without care will be practically all the care system has to offer to teenagers aged 16 and 17.”

Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of care charity Become, added: “Creating a set of separate national standards will further formalise a ‘two-tier’ care system, with older children in semi-independent and independent settings still not guaranteed the ‘care’ they need

“Care-experienced young people have frequently spoken out about the lack of security, stability and support they have experienced living in unregulated accommodation, yet their use increases for under-18s because there are not enough safe and suitable homes being invested in.”

Andy Elvin, chief executive of TACT care, said: “The fact that the DfE are going to double down on the egregious historical error that has allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to be placed in accommodation with no requirement for care suggests they are not serious about their role as a corporate parent.”

Campaigners have also expressed concern that implementing such regulations will "normalise" leaving care and living independently by age 16.

Willow said: “The consultation also sanitises leaving care at age 16 which is a handbrake turn on decades of policy initiatives which have sought to bring the care system closer to ordinary family life. It's a travesty that this coincides with government promising love and stability to every child through implementing the recommendations of the children's social care review.”

Katharine Sacks-Jones added: “The government claims that the use of this sort of accommodation for 16- and 17-year-olds is a helpful step towards independence, but the evidence suggests this is not how it’s being used for many young people including those seeking asylum and those who have only recently come into care, who typically need more, not less support.”

The consultation also states that settings should “support the child to develop the resilience and skills required to transition out of supported accommodation”, which Willow said “sums up what is so wrong with the children’s care system”.

She added: “Children should have as much time as they need to recover from past abuse and other harms, to feel secure and settled, and to have what they need to thrive. The care system's obsession with preparing children for survival and life on their own is one of its greatest flaws, because it habitually pushes away the very children who need holding close.”

Campaigners have also expressed concerns that proposals to regulate accommodation through Ofsted inspections are inadequate.

Willow said: “The consultation confirms that only a sample of properties where children live will be inspected. Moreover, Ofsted will be required to inspect providers just once every three years.”

Issues have also been raised due to the consultation including volunteers under the definition of staff, and stating that bedsits will be considered a regulated placement for teenagers in care.

Sacks-Jones added: “We are yet to see evidence that the government has listened to young people who have spoken out about their experiences of living in ‘supported’ accommodation, but this consultation is an opportunity to make sure the Government understand the negative impact these proposals will have.”

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association said: “We support plans to introduce quality standards, registration and inspection, which will drive up standards for this form of accommodation and help to ensure young people are living in high quality homes with the right support around them.

"However, we have repeatedly emphasised to the Government that this risks both increasing the cost of placements and reducing the sufficiency of places. While neither of these in itself is a reason not to introduce quality standards, it is essential that these impacts are mitigated to ensure that these changes do not inadvertently make the current sufficiency challenge worse.”

The consultation will close on 16 January, prompting further concern that the government's decision to hold it over the Christmas break will dilute responses.

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