System for unregulated homes for teenagers in care ‘completely untenable’

The current system of oversight for unregulated accommodation for teenagers in care is “completely untenable”, a minister has warned.

Education minister Michelle Donelan (pictured) said the Department for Education would set out new statutory guidelines in response to a debate on unregulated accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds in care.

Former minister and Tory MP Andrew Selous said local councils are either “unable or unwilling” to properly scrutinise unregulated care homes for vulnerable young people and urged central government to step up efforts to ensure unregulated accommodation for 16 to 17-year-olds is safe.

It follows concerns raised by Bedfordshire Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for serious violence, who has spoken out about the risk of teenagers placed in unregulated homes being exploited by organised crime gangs.

In response, Ms Donelan said: “This is not a new issue and it is right that it is at the top of my agenda as a newly appointed minister.

“Both the Secretary of State and myself are clear that the current system is completely untenable. We must get this right and I will ensure that we get this right.”

There are around 5,000 looked-after children in England currently placed in 16-plus supported or semi-supported accommodation.

South West Bedfordshire MP Mr Selous told MPs poor conditions in unregulated care homes can be a “multiplier of misfortune”, with some young people going missing on multiple occasions or getting involved in violence and crime.

He said some young people have even become targets for recruitment into organised gangs and county lines drug dealing.

Speaking during a Commons debate on the issue, Mr Selous said: “It is completely unacceptable that we are paying these enormous amounts of money to businesses, some of who do an appalling job and are more interested in making money than looking after vulnerable children.”

Mr Selous said there needs to be someone to oversee value for money for taxpayers.

He said progress has been too slow and that there needs to be a change in how the homes are regulated.

The MP said Ofsted needs to provide “proper regulatory oversight”.

He added: “It is now time to act because we have all the evidence we need that local authorities are unwilling or unable to provide the necessary level of scrutiny of these unregulated homes.”

Speaking ahead of the debate, Ms Sebire said: “The reality is that the whole care system needs looking at, it is full to capacity and having to rely on unregulated homes which put young people at risk of serious harm.

“These homes are often seen as easy targets for criminals looking to groom vulnerable young people.

“We have to spend a huge amount of police time locating young people who have missed curfews or gone missing from this type of accommodation – and that means, due to our limited resources in Bedfordshire, that we can’t attend other incidents as quickly as we would like.”

Responding for the Government, Ms Donelan said she is calling on all local authorities “to put their houses in order”.

She added: “I do recognise that despite our guidelines, recent research commissioned by the department suggests that some local authorities are genuinely unclear about what is permissible and what is not in relation to the use of unregulated and unregistered provision.

“I want to ensure that there is no confusion at all. So I’m working with my department to ensure that there is new statutory guidance so that everyone involved in providing care to looked-after children, and care leavers, is absolutely clear of what is required of them.”

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