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Become: Government proposals fail to address risks of unregulated accommodation for older children in care

Children in care aged 16 and 17 risk being left without the safety and stability of regulated accommodation, under government plans to create national standards for unregulated placements housing them.

As part of its consultation on unregulated supported accommodation*, which closed on 3 June, the Department for Education (DfE) wants to develop a new set of national standards that all unregulated providers of accommodation will abide by going forward.

We raised serious concerns about the proposals, highlighting that they will prevent more than 6,000 vulnerable children from being provided with the level of care they need at a crucial time in their lives.

Responding to the Government’s consultation, we argued that these 6,000 16-18 year-olds should not be placed in unregulated settings, which so often don’t provide the security or support that they need and leave them at greater risk of exploitation. We set out our fears that recent growth in unregulated placements has not been in the best interests of children in care and that it was unable to endorse these proposals which formalise such an arrangement.

We also disagreed with DfE’s proposal for Ofsted to monitor compliance with the national standards to raise the quality of independent and semi-independent accommodation. Instead, Ofsted should regulate and inspect these placements in line with a version of existing children’s home regulations tailored to the needs of older children. 

A worrying omission from the DfE’s consultation was the lack of strategy for increasing current regulated placements, such as foster care or residential homes, which can provide a more stable and caring environment for some 16 and 17-year olds. The recent growth in unregulated placements has not been in the best interests of children living there and the DfE’s proposals risk formalising the current system further. 

Other highlights from our response to DfE’s proposals included: 

  • We disagreed with the proposal for a new requirement for local authorities to consult with relevant police forces when they place a child out-of-area in independent and/or semi-independent accommodation. Strong links and processes to share information and to safeguard children living out-of-area should already be in place. A separate requirement may unintentionally act to displace complex care planning and safeguarding decisions to the police. 
  • We disagreed with amending legislation to define ‘care’ in order to provide clarity on what amounts to ‘other arrangements’, such as ‘unregulated’ provision. This is because we every place a child in care lives should be able to provide them with care, which independent and semi-independent provision does not do. 
  • We agreed that Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) should be encouraged where possible to visit children in their placement to assess whether it is meeting their needs. Young people often tell us they don’t see or hear from their IRO other than at review meetings, and this process may support stronger relationships and additional independent scrutiny.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Become, said: “Children in care have the right to be safe, loved and cared for, like any other child, and it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure this happens as their corporate parent. This consultation is a critical opportunity to rectify the deeply unacceptable situation with unregulated placements.

“Basic national standards for independent and semi-independent accommodation risk a ‘two-tier’ system for children in care, with those in foster placements and residential homes enjoying a more supportive and caring environment. We want to see revised proposals that listen to the voices of care-experienced children and young people and are in their best interest.”

Our response also reflected the views young people who were concerned about the impact of the proposals on their lives.

One young person supported by Become said: “I can’t leave education before age 18, so why am I being asked to live independently before then?” Another young person added: “One day someone is buying and preparing your food for you, and the next day you are expected to know how to do it yourself (just because you now get to blow an extra candle out on your cake) even if no one has shown you how to do these things.”

You can view our full response here.

Care-experienced people can still respond to the government's consultation and have until 23 June to do so - more information is here.

*Unregulated accommodation is independent or semi-independent accommodation and typically includes supported accommodation, housing or flats where older children live.