The Government has recently announced that, from September 2021, Local Authorities will no longer be able to place children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation. It may come as a surprise that children in the care of a Local Authority may end up in unregulated accommodation in the first place and the announcement raises further questions about the system.
Children can come into the care of a local authority for a number of reasons. If a Local Authority children’s service becomes concerned about a child they can become involved to investigate further. Where concerns are such that children’s services believe a child can no longer be safely cared for at home they can apply to the Court for a Care Order. That order allows the Local Authority to make decisions about the child such as where the child should live.
Of course, all attempts should be made by children’s services to ensure that a child can be cared for within their family and, if that is not possible, foster care is another option. In all circumstances, those who are asked by a local authority to care for a child, be they family members or foster carers, need to be assessed and found to meet certain standards to ensure that a child will be safe in their care.
For various reasons family members may sometimes not be an option and foster care inappropriate. Other options for children in the care of a Local Authority then include residential placements. These are the placements which are now to be regulated by Ofsted.
Unregulated placements of this nature could clearly be a concern due to there potentially being a difference in the standard of care being given from area to area and from placement to placement. There have been reports of young people being placed in hostels and even caravan parks. Regulation of these placements can only be a good thing.
However, the new system, when it comes into force, will only apply to children under the age of 16. A care order can last until a child reaches the age of 18 which means that children between the ages of 16 and 18 may still end up in unregulated placements. The basis of this situation seems to be that at that age the children are not receiving “care” but “support” to live semi-independently. Critics have said that this could lead to vulnerable teenagers being at risk.
Whilst the regulation proposed by the new system should be welcomed it may be that the new system does not go far enough and more needs to be done to protect our most vulnerable young people.
If you require legal advice on any child matters including social services cases, please contact Farleys’ family law team on 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry by email.