Councils in some areas are ignoring legal safeguards by using single-place children’s homes instead of secure accomodation, writes Amy Taylor
Last week, a Commission for Social Care Inspection report showed some councils were increasingly using single-place children’s homes to meet demand arising from the growing number of children with behavioural problems and other complex needs.
The study said that while some councils were using the homes in a genuine attempt to meet young people’s needs, for others they were a quick solution in times of crisis.
It also revealed that some councils were using one-person homes as an alternative to secure accommodation but without the legal safeguards. CSCI was highly critical of this practice and said it should never happen.
It said this meant restricting young people’s liberty without the authority of law (see The Law). It also warned that neither the legal rights given to young people in secure accommodation nor the guidance governing staff in such settings were applicable to one-person homes.
Paul Snell, chief inspector at the CSCI, says: “One of the things that we have seen is authorities or providers describing something they consider to be semi-secure. There is in law no such thing as a semi-secure facility. You either restrict people’s liberty, and there is guidance and legal terms on that, or you do not.”
The report did not look into local authorities’ reasons for choosing single-place homes as an alternative to secure accommodation, but Snell says that some may be doing so on moral grounds, feeling secure accommodation may be too much for some children. He adds that a lack of specialist secure mental health facilities could also be leading to the practice.
While the number of single-place children’s homes has increased over recent years, the amount and usage of local authority secure children’s homes (Laschs), in which welfare beds are provided for children with complex needs, has fallen dramatically.
Jon Banwell, chair of the Secure Accommodation Network, which represents Laschs, says that this is partly due to a misinterpretation of government guidance which leads to some local authorities seeing secure accommodation as a last resort. But, he adds that in other areas the decision is less considered with councils using single-place because they do not have to seek a welfare order from the courts (see The Law).
He says some local authorities are also not aware of available welfare beds due to Laschs having little funding for advertising compared with single-place homes, which are often run by the private sector.
Banwell says that he is not against single-place homes in principle, with some being of good quality and suitable for certain children, but he questions the facilities available.
“It’s an isolated experience whereas in a secure children’s home you are with others and you can work through things. You have got education on site. You have got access to child and adolescent mental health services. Do one-bed homes have that?”
CSCI chair Denise Platt agrees it is unclear if single-place homes are providing children with the services they would get in a Lasch.
“When you have secure accommodation it’s a very structured regime, and the question we are posing for one-person children’s homes is ‘are the same safeguards available for those children?’,” she says.
Ultimately, Banwell sees councils’ use of the homes as simply delaying the inevitable: “The kids are still coming to us in the end or going down the juvenile justice route.”
The Law (back to top)
For a child to be placed in secure accommodation on welfare grounds a court order under section 25 of the Children Act 1989 has to be made. This should be when a looked-after child is likely to run away from open accommodation or to injure themselves or others. For children under the age of 13 the secretary of state’s written permission must be provided before admission.
One-Person Children’s Homes – A Positive Choice or a Last Resort?
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