The recent Newsnight investigation (and accompanying BBC article) exploring unregulated accommodation for older teenagers in care raises important and urgent questions about the suitability of these places as homes for vulnerable young people.
As a corporate parent, local authorities have a duty to ensure young people in their care are living somewhere which is safe, supportive and suited to their needs. Any option which jeopardises their wellbeing and welfare is never acceptable.
The absence of regulation itself doesn’t act to create unsuitable living conditions. However, it does introduce an immediate and unacceptable level of known risk. DBS checks and rare unannounced visits are not sufficient to determine whether these places are providing adequate support and protection. The same ‘flexibility’ afforded by this unregulated provision erodes the safeguards which prevent young people from being exposed to criminalisation and exploitation.
To be clear - supported or semi-supported accommodation in its varying forms can be the right option for some young people preparing to leave care, when considered as part of a thorough assessment and planning process which listens to the voices of each young person, and when appropriate mechanisms are in place to regularly monitor arrangements and ensure positive and caring experiences. Unfortunately, it’s clear that this isn’t happening enough.
The huge increase in the numbers of older children in care being placed in this provision is occurring against a backdrop of deepening privatisation across children’s social care. Cash-strapped local authorities’ desire for ‘flexibility’ is understandable as the options available to them become further restricted with each new cut to their budgets.
However, the expansion of unregistered, unregulated and profit-seeking provision is not a solution to this problem: it is a symptom. There must be an urgent and extensive review of this accommodation, which listens closely to the views of care-experienced young people, to understand why more and more children are living there.