Lack of secure accommodation for vulnerable children needs ‘urgent attention’

The availability of secure accommodation for vulnerable children in England and Wales is in crisis, a senior judge has said.

Lord Justice Baker said the “significant shortfall in the availability of approved secure accommodation is causing very considerable problems for local authorities and courts across the country”.

In a Court of Appeal ruling which was delivered on Thursday, the judge observed that the shortage of appropriate accommodation “means that local authorities are frequently prevented from complying with their statutory obligations to meet the welfare needs of a cohort of vulnerable young people who are at the greatest risk of harm”.

The judge added: “The provision of such resources is, of course, expensive but the long-term costs of failing to make provision are invariably much greater. This is a problem which needs urgent attention by those responsible for the provision of resources in this area.”

Lord Justice Baker made the remarks in his judgment on the “worrying case” of a 15-year-old girl, who can only be referred to as B for legal reasons, whose local authority applied to a lower court for her to be placed in secure accommodation.

B was referred to social services last year after making allegations of abuse against her mother and stepfather, and was later arrested for allegedly threatening the pair with knives and screwdrivers and starting a fire at their home.

She was placed in a local authority children’s home earlier this year having assaulted her mother and stepfather on a number of other occasions, but her behaviour “continued to cause concern”, the judge said, with her repeatedly attempting to take her own life and self-harm.

The local authority, which cannot be identified, placed the teenager in unregistered accommodation before it eventually found a placement in approved secure accommodation which was “several hundred miles away from B’s home”, the judge said.

Earlier this year, a family court judge refused to make an order approving the placement but the council took its case to the Court of Appeal to challenge that decision.

Giving the court’s judgment, Lord Justice Baker ruled that an order permitting B to be moved to that placement should have been made, but said that it was “no longer available”.

He said that the girl’s mother and stepfather “have seen encouraging progress” in her current placement, but added that “the local authority remains concerned that, without therapeutic support, she will remain at risk”.

The judge said the local authority would need to decide whether to reapply to move B to secure accommodation before a further hearing which is due to take place in December.

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