Multiple and complex needs found in backgrounds of children deprived of liberty

Children subject to DoL orders had average of 4.2 of 11 areas of need including placement breakdown, mental health and going missing, finds analysis

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The multiple and complex needs of children made the subject of deprivation of liberty (DoL) orders have been laid bare in an analysis published last week.

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO) found that children had, on average, 4.2 of a set of 11 indicators of need or risk, including mental health issues, disability, self-harm or going missing.

But despite this many also faced multiple breakdowns of their care arrangements or were placed in unlawful unregistered accommodation.

The findings came in an analysis of the first two months of applications to a national DoL court set up in July 2022.

The court was established to handle a substantial increase in the number of applications, chiefly by councils, to deprive children of their liberty, for their own safety or that of others, using the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.

The hike has been driven, in part, by a severe shortage of places in secure children’s homes, an issue highlighted last month in sharp terms by the president of the family division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane.

Multiple risks

The Nuffield FJO’s analysis of 208 children found 11 main areas of need or risk:  risk to others, going missing, self-harm, mental health concerns, neurodevelopmental disorders, disability, sexual
exploitation, criminal exploitation, substance misuse, placement breakdown and being out of education.

Children had up to eight areas of need, with two-thirds having four or more.

While the most prevalent issue was risk to others (69.2%), chiefly in relation to physical aggression, this was closely followed by mental health concerns (59.1%), placement breakdown (55.3%) self-harm (52.4%) and going missing (46.6%).

The observatory identified three groups within the sample of cases analysed:

  • Children with learning and physical disabilities for whom the DoL was sought primarily due to a need to monitor and supervise the child to manage their care needs or to place restrictions on their liberty to manage challenging behaviours linked to their disability.
  • Children who had often suffered complex and ongoing trauma and were considered very vulnerable due to overlapping risks and needs primarily related to mental health, self-harming and risk to others.
  • Children experiencing or at risk of external or extrafamilial risk factors such as sexual or criminal exploitation, for whom the primary concern was to manage this risk, though these children often also had complex and ongoing trauma.

Unlawful placements

Despite their vulnerability, the children, as well as enduring high levels of placement breakdown, were at significant risk of being placed in unregistered settings.

This occurs when a provider is delivering care and accommodation to a young person but is not registered to do so with Ofsted, which is unlawful.

While 16.8% were in such settings prior to the DoL order, 45.6% were due to be placed in them following the order. This was particularly the case among those for whom the primary reasons for the DoL application were self-harm (62.5% of whom were due to move into an unregistered placement) or risk to others (54.5%).

In these cases, councils often work with providers to set up a bespoke service for the child because of the severe shortage of suitable placements nationally, whether in open or closed children’s homes. The courts will only authorise such unregistered placements in an emergency and if providers are taking steps to secure registration with Ofsted.

Top judge’s criticisms of lack of secure provision

In his judgment in the Re X case last month, Sir Andrew McFarlane excoriated the government and Parliament for a six-year failure to address judicial warnings about a chronic shortage that meant 60-70 children were waiting for a secure bed every day.

Separate Nuffield FJO figures have shown that applications for DoL orders now appear to be considerably higher than those for secure accommodation orders, the legal basis for a welfare placement in a secure home.

Between July and September 2022, there were 348 applications for to the national DoL court, compared with 46 for a secure order.

It predicted there would be 1,300 DoL applications in the first full year of the court, compared with an estimated 103 in 2017-18, according to a previous analysis by the observatory of Cafcass data.

‘Last resort’ has become routine measure

The Nuffield FJO said that, having been designed as a last resort, DoL orders were now being “routinely
requested by local authorities for children who have experienced years of trauma and instability in their lives”.

In response to the issue, the government intends to create 50 new places in secure homes as part of a £259m investment in residential childcare from 2022-25. The Department for Education (DfE) also plans to trial the establishment of regional care co-operatives (RCCs), groupings of local authorities that would take over the commissioning of care placements from individual councils, as part of its response to the care review.

In its draft children’s social care strategy, published earlier this month, it said RCCs would be “better equipped to provide more residential care homes for those children with the most complex needs”, through the pooling of resources and expertise.

However, both investment in new places and the introduction of RCCs would only bear fruit over the medium term. Nuffield FJO director Lisa Harker warned: “Improving provision for this group of children is an urgent necessity; it is not only about building new children’s homes for the future, it is about urgently meeting the needs of children today.

“It will require a nationwide strategy, with significant commitment at a local and national level, led by national government. We know that a wide range of professionals, including senior members of the judiciary, have been actively and consistently calling for action to address the gross lack of suitable provision.”

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6 Responses to Multiple and complex needs found in backgrounds of children deprived of liberty

  1. Chris Sterry February 15, 2023 at 4:20 pm #

    ‘Nuffield FJO director Lisa Harker warned: “Improving provision for this group of children is an urgent necessity; it is not only about building new children’s homes for the future, it is about urgently meeting the needs of children today.

    “It will require a nationwide strategy, with significant commitment at a local and national level, led by national government. We know that a wide range of professionals, including senior members of the judiciary, have been actively and consistently calling for action to address the gross lack of suitable provision.” ‘

    This is so true and I so doubt this government and any future government will take any action, let alone all actions.

    Yes, new buildings or even adapted old ones are not, anywhere near the full requirement. For any building needs to be sufficiently and appropriately staffed and with the current vacancies it is hard to see where any of these staff will be coming from.

    Providing staff of the required numbers is only just a part of the problem for they need much approrpriate training in many increasing areas, for while one child may be similar to another, that is not correct, for every child will have their own distinction needs in many areas. Understanding each child is a major requirement, as before any solutions are found the full extent of all problems need to be known and there is no room for assumptions. These problems could well change during any time period and these changes also need to be recognised whenever they occur or occurring and the right ways of dealing have to be there immediately.

    For in many instances situations have been made much worse due to incorrect ways of dealing with situations being done, when other ways would have had more success. It is understanding each child and not just following a standard Rulebook, especially one which allows no other interventions.

    It is inevitable that on occasions some ways may not be fully correct, and in these actions need to be taken very soon as possible.

    But it is not just the children that need support for the staff there also need to be well supported, but not to instigate some coverup, as if wrongs have been done then covering up is also so wrong. But staff will need some support, some more than others, certainly emotional and many others.

    But, in many instances it will be the lack of resources in many other areas, mental health for one, but they will be and are many others.

    None of this will be easy and without sufficient and sustainable financing, both Government to LAs and then LAs to the facilities, successes will not be forthcoming, for it will lead to complete failure, as we have seen and are seeing with the current and previous lack of funding in these very essential services.

    It is not that we can’t afford to fund, but that we can’t afford not to fund.

    But what is really required is a fully caring government, but then do I believe in miracles?

  2. Alec Fraher February 17, 2023 at 3:37 pm #

    Nothing Works, again?

    Nothing Works, Troubled and Troubling, Hard to Reach and Hard to Place are the title’s of similar research findings from a decade or so ago.

    Surely the terms ‘bed’ and ‘accommodation’ require greater legal definition and clarity. It’s the same legal use as in homelessness legislation.

    And, how many times is ‘contracting’ used in behaviour management plans with children?

    What are their protections against oppressive, arbitrary and unconstitutional decision making when making the initial placement arrangements and when there’s disruption?

    What’s their liklihood of being subject to targetted/untargetted malice?

    These are legal and constitutional matters often buried within the ‘urgency’; an urgency which is as much systemically created to mitigate liabilities as is ’caused’ by the distress of a child.

    Where does Kinship Care, Specialist, including Remand and Bail, Fostering feature ?

    In 2005/6 the then government pumped money into the commercial sector provision of secure accommodation in adult mh services. They were not pressure tested and became accidents waiting to happen, and without heads on beds completely unviable.

  3. Alec Fraher February 17, 2023 at 5:26 pm #

    Q: Any restriction of movement greaterthan an accumulative 72hrs in a 28 day period is a fundamental breech of freedom for any child. This applies within secure facilities as well.

    Is this the working definition in-use?

  4. Alec Fraher February 19, 2023 at 4:38 pm #

    Q: Is the Nuffield, like Camilla Cavendish in the FT, and the MacAlister Review actually State sponsored activities better described as offering an Amicus Curiae and lobbying or appeasing the Judiciary and Courts?

    A: Modern Selling of State Responsibilities, eh!

    Legal Formalism first found it’s expression in the UK through the Mental Health Act 1983. (for cpd see Larry Gostin)

    Since then it’s US big brother, Legal Realism or American Legalism as it’s properly known, has played a key part in shaping and cutting access to law and judicial process. We’re all customers, right?

    The consumer locus of which came into focus in The Woolf Review 1997(ish). This review was, and rightly so, concerned with how the, then, many confused complaints systems could be straightened and made easier for everyone, right?

    One of the things looked at were the LGA 1972 requirements to appoint a CEO and legal advisors who held personal duties to identify, report on, and prevent illegality and maladministration. This translates into what are known as s115 and s114 Officers who are part of the Office of the CEO.

    The MacAlister Review and the DofE backed RCCs actually make this harder and so hard to that seeking an ‘effective remedy’ becomes unworkable. In a case I brought, and lost, against the Information Commissioner the Judge held that the legal responsibilities of Council’s to actually ‘hold’ information are conceptually bonkers. I simply got ghosted.I never existed. Great,eh!

    If as, MacFarlane insists, that parliament and Government do get their finger out. Let’s also insist that the Judiciary are similarly minded to get their own house in order. Writing Amicus Curiae (or Briefs) is big business too. Much of what we’re reading as Government Policy can’t be differentiated from modern advertising.

    Similarly, the concepts shaping children’s welfare have become, increasingly, about avoiding State liabilities.

    The requirements are for a bed, that’s it!

    And, if the CMA were serious then they’d have said much more. What of Enterprise Act Super Complaints or Unfair Terms and Conditions of Contracts Act.

    Where’s the Amicus Curiae for this aspect of law?

  5. spencer March 1, 2023 at 2:04 pm #

    Im in care and the DOLS order has made me so much worse! its genuiley ruined my mental health even more. the staff arent trained properly at all, its corrupt and they think they can get away with anything and blame it on the DOLS order to “keep me safe” but they arent even keeping me safe they are putting me at more risk with how they treat me. ive been fine for months now and i havent been allowed out and do anything or even hang out with freinds for like a year and im literally 17 turning 18 soon

  6. Alec Fraher March 7, 2023 at 1:29 pm #

    DOLS, like a any Orders, are permissive. This means that as soon as they need not apply they must be ended.

    Also, all Orders are made by a Court and the Court has responsibility for them working properly.

    Habeas Corpus, comes to mind. Ask your solicitor about it.

    Remember you must also demonstrate that the conditions giving rise to the making of the DoLs no longer apply, to You.

    Your SW is the person to talk with about this, even if that’s hard to do. They are your SW which includes sticking up for you.

    Just so you know I, too, have recommended s25 Orders to prevent contact with others because I knew more about these ‘others’ than was good for the Child, at that time. It worked-out well although there were bumps in the road. Don’t be your own ‘bump’ in the road though it’ll stick with you. As tough as it is, and only you will feel this, but how you feel will change as you get older. Learning trust when you’ve never known it is damn hard.

    Thank you for writing here. I hear your reach-out and reach-back. I hope it is helpful.