Education Secretary Gavin Williamson launched the consultation last month with proposals including banning the use of unregulated provision for under-16s and introducing national minimum standards for supported accommodation for 16- to 18-year-olds.
However, the Department for Education (DfE) has brought together organisations believed to include Ofsted, the Local Government Association, Independent Children’s Home Association and the National Youth Advocacy Service to draw up draft quality standards for such provisions.
It is set to provide DfE with "expert advice" alongside the consultation and will be chaired by former Association of the Director's of Children's Services Sir Alan Wood.
The group’s mandate is “to create a working draft of quality standards that will be reworked to include consultation responses”, sources told CYP Now.
It has been set up to enable the DfE to “get a head start” on plans set to be released after the consultation ends on 8 April.
The group is set to meet for the first time this week.
DfE said it "brings together a diverse range of views from those involved in the commissioning, provision and inspection of settings for children in care, as well as those who advocate for young people".
However, Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said the creation of the working group undermined the consultation.
“Why bother asking care experienced people and others to submit their views and experiences if decisions have already been made?” she said.
“This select group has been brought together to help draft standards which are the subject of a public consultation. Its timeframe is almost concurrent with the consultation period itself.”
Willow highlighted the lack of care-experienced people represented in the group, adding: “It’s not like the organisations invited to join the group need help to be heard by the government. It's children and young people sent miles away from their home towns and cities who should be getting this special listening ear, not powerful organisations representing local authorities and providers.
“So now we have a two-tier consultation process to go with the proposed two-tier residential system. Care-experienced people should be in the majority of this 'task and finish' group, and its work must start after the consultation ends."
Last month, the Education Secretary said the consultation had been launched “as a matter of urgency” ahead of a wider care review promised in the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto.
Proposals, as first revealed by CYP Now, included giving Ofsted new legal powers to crack down on illegal settings that are providing care for children without being registered to do so.
New measures that require local authorities to partner with police forces before children are placed in unregulated settings, which provide accommodation but not care, away from home also look set to be introduced.
Campaigners have previously raised concerns about the safety of young people living in unregulated and unregistered provision following the publication of a number of recent reports that highlighted risks from abusers and criminal gangs towards 16- and 17-year-olds placed in such settings.
Key points covered by the consultation include:
Banning the use of independent and semi-independent placements for children and young people under the age of 16.
Driving up the quality of support offered in independent and semi-independent provision, through the introduction of national standards.
Ensuring young people’s interests are appropriately represented by their independent reviewing officer.
Introducing new measures so that local authorities and local police forces liaise before a placement in this provision is made.
Giving Ofsted new legal powers to crack down on illegal providers.
According to government figures, more than 6,000 looked-after children and young people in England are living in unregulated accommodation, with up to 100 under-16s living in unregulated provision at any one time.
The DfE has been contacted for comment.