Sector responds to ban on unregulated accommodation for under-16s

Fiona Simpson
Friday, February 19, 2021

The Department for Education's plans to ban the use of unregulated supported accommodation for children under 16 "do not go far enough", critics have said.

Campaigners have said the ban 'does not go far enough. Picture: Adobe Stock
Campaigners have said the ban 'does not go far enough. Picture: Adobe Stock

The new rules are set to come into force in September following a consultation on such provision which launched last February, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

The government is also set to introduce new national standards for unregulated accommodation for 16- and 17-year-olds and give Ofsted greater regulatory powers.

New legislation will also allow the inspectorate to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered providers.

The announcement has sparked a mixed reaction among the sector with many calling for a ban on the use of unregulated accommodation for all young people until they turn 18.

Here key figures from the sector share their views:

ADCS President Jenny Coles: “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 already in place as local authorities have a responsibility to make sure the unregulated provision they are using is suitable and they will take their own steps to locally regulate and quality assure 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. We await further 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.”

Rebekah Pierre, professional officer at BASW England: “While a ban on unregulated placements is welcome, the Education Secretary has let down thousands of vulnerable children with this announcement. There should be no distinction between under and over 16 years olds in care. Every child has a right to a safe, nurturing environment and emotional support - all of which are absent in unregulated accommodation.

“The lack of extension of this ban to 16- to 18-year-olds is deeply troubling, discriminatory and has no rationale grounded in young people's interests. The wide-ranging problems unregulated housing causes older teenagers are backed up by a range of first-hand accounts from looked-after young people and care leavers, some that even contributed to the Education Secretary’s consultation.

“Speaking from personal experience, having lived in an unregulated bedsit between 16-18 which felt more like a prison than a home,  I know the negative impact unsafe accommodation can have on a teenager’s mental health, access to basic needs such as food and electricity, and sense of self-worth.

“The Department for Education has not gone far enough in today’s announcement, instead they risk creating a two-tier system where a child in care is no longer seen as a child the day after they pass their 16th birthday. Those crossing this threshold risk being plunged into a system where they are at a far greater risk of experiencing poverty, criminal and sexual exploitation and poor mental health to name just some of the issues.

“This government must prioritise the issue of sufficient quality regulated placements to provide care for all children and young people in care in England.”

Tulip Siddiq MP, Labour’s shadow minister for Children and Early Years: “All children need a safe place to call home, yet some of the most vulnerable are effectively being cast aside because there isn’t enough capacity in the care system. 

“After a year of consultation, the government still hasn’t realised that most looked after children in unregulated accommodation are over 15. Their proposed solution is yet another sticking plaster that won’t address the problem.

“We need a clear plan to rebuild children’s social care after this pandemic and ensure that no child is left behind.”

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39: “The Education Secretary states in his foreword that he cannot imagine a circumstance in which a child under the age of 16 would be put somewhere where they don’t receive care. But children aged 16 and 17 also need care. Why would they be in the care of the state otherwise? Even the inspection framework for child prisons demands that children receive care.  

“Today’s shameful policy announcement entrenches a two-tier care system. Children who live with foster carers are already entitled to remain part of these families until they are 21. Yet the government is saying today that it is entirely legitimate for children who don’t live with their own family or a foster family to be denied care from their 16th birthday. 

“When the Education Secretary committed a year ago to ban unregulated accommodation for children in care, he should have known that all establishments that were providing care and accommodation to children had to, by law, register as children’s homes and follow quality standards. It’s only establishments that don’t provide care which can avoid having to register as children’s homes. So the minister had a choice of whether to build up the care system by ensuring every child receives care or give the green light to a new, inferior set of standards which seek to legitimise the absence of care for teenagers. That he has been able to opt for the minus-care arrangement shows a lack of compassion for teenagers at the heart of government. There is also the fact that children from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately put into unregulated accommodation.

“There are only two quotes from young people in the document published by the government today, yet more than 160 young people gave their views. When Article 39 held an online discussion with 10 young people about unregulated accommodation, observed by a civil servant, one young person described unregulated accommodation as being ‘like a house without parents’ and another said ‘you have to be like Bear Grylls and survive’. One girl was rushed to hospital with damage to her lungs caused by mould. A boy was the victim of a very serious crime committed by a member of staff while living in unregulated accommodation. 

“We will continue to do our best in trying to persuade the government to guarantee care to all children in care. Parents up and down the country provide loving care to teenagers while respecting and encouraging their growing autonomy, and so should the care system.” 

Outgoing children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield: “The government’s ban on unregulated provision for under-16s in care is very welcome, but needs to go further and include all under-18s. 

“There are too many teenage children in care living in completely unsuitable and sometimes dangerous accommodation, including hostels or caravan parks. Vulnerable 17-year-olds are sometimes placed in accommodation where they are easy prey for those who abuse or exploit children, and this change to the law will still leave them at risk.

“The proposals for Ofsted inspections of settings are also welcome, and it is right that the new standards are developed in consultation with experts and children with care experience. However this must be done quickly. The national standards must closely reflect the existing regulation for children’s homes so that we don’t fall into the trap of treating vulnerable older teens as adults rather than the children they still are.

“At the heart of these problems is a chronic shortage of residential provision for children in care and this must be something that both the current independent care review and forthcoming government spending review rectifies.”

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