The government must set out a strategy to prevent further closures of secure children’s homes, a review of the sector has concluded.
The review, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, warned that a decline in local authority referrals for welfare beds was putting the future of homes at risk.
Under section 25 of the Children Act 1989, children at risk of harm and absconding can be placed in secure children’s homes, which also take referrals from the Youth Justice Board for children sentenced or remanded to custody.
Big fall in welfare placements
But there has been a 30% drop in welfare placements during the past four years, leading to the closure of 11 homes and bringing the current number to just 19, the review found.
This was due to the use of alternative placements, “differing application” of commissioning guidance by councils, and perceived “stigma” associated with homes as a last resort for children.
“There is a perception amongst social workers that sending a child to secure is a sign of ‘failure’. This could lead to a situation where children are not sent to secure even if this might be in their best interest,” the review by consultancy Deloitte said.
It recommended setting out a strategy for the future of the secure children’s home market and clarification of regulations and commissioning guidance. The review also called for increased publicity for secure children’s homes services and better co-ordination between agencies.
Roy Walker, chair of the Secure Accommodation Network, which represents all secure children’s homes in England and Wales, welcomed the review. “Action now needs to be taken quickly or homes will continue to close,” he said.
The Deloitte review followed the government’s pledge last year to avoid children being inappropriately placed in the community as a result of further home closures.