Vulnerable girl may have to be placed in Airbnb property until special unit found, judge told

A vulnerable teenage girl may be temporarily placed in Airbnb accommodation by council social services staff because a suitable specialist unit cannot be found, a High Court judge has been told.

Bosses at Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council have begun litigation centred on the youngster, who is in her mid-teens.

They say she has a range of complex difficulties and want a judge to rule that she can lawfully be deprived of her liberty.

Mr Justice MacDonald, who is overseeing the litigation at hearings in the Family Division of the High Court, has heard how the girl has been in hospital as a result of being injured.

But doctors say she is now ready to be discharged.

A barrister representing Tameside council, which is based in Ashton under Lyne, Greater Manchester, told the judge of the Airbnb plan at the latest hearing in the case in London on Thursday.

Amina Ahmed said the plan was to rent Airbnb accommodation, where the girl could live with support staff, until a suitable residential unit could be found

She said residential units were being assessed.

Mr Justice MacDonald said family court judges up and down England and Wales were being told of difficulties finding specialist accommodation for vulnerable teenagers.

He said he had overseen a number of hearings in the girl’s case, and £10,000 of public money had been spent on lawyers, but no suitable unit had been found.

The judge said the girl was currently in a hospital ward which was “entirely unsuitable” for her.

“So, we are now sourcing Airbnb placements for vulnerable children?” he asked.

“Well, yes,” Miss Ahmed replied.

Mr Justice MacDonald is due to review developments at another hearing next week.

The judge oversaw a public hearing on Thursday but said the girl could not be identified in media reports.

Mr Justice MacDonald also heard submissions from lawyers representing the girl, her mother and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Barrister Jack Holborn, who represented Mr Williamson, told the judge that the girl’s case was not a Government matter.

Mr Holborn said: “Local authorities have wide powers available to them to commission services as they see fit.”

The judge replied: “What if there are no services available to commission?”

Judges raise concern about lack of secure accommodation for children

A series of judges have in recent years raised concern about a shortage of secure units in England and Wales for children with difficulties.

– In 2014 Judge Sarah Singleton warned of a “terrible national shortage” of places in secure units for dangerous youngsters. She said there was a “gross shortage of resource” which created a “lack of protection for the public”. The judge made her comments in a written analysis of a case involving a 15-year-old boy who had a “terrifying” history of violence, following a family court hearing in Lancaster.

– In 2014 a High Court judge highlighted a “striking” lack of secure accommodation in Birmingham. Mr Justice Nicol said Birmingham City Council appeared to have no secure accommodation units for children and was dependent on arrangements with other local authorities. The judge made his comments in a ruling on a legal challenge launched by a teenager at a High Court hearing in London.

– In 2015 Judge Laura Harris told of her “great concern” about the lack of suitable secure accommodation for a 14-year-old girl who was said to be beyond parental control and at significant risk of harm. The judge, who analysed the girl’s case at a family court hearing in London, said there appeared to be a “real and ongoing problem” which was putting vulnerable youngsters and members of the public at risk.

– In 2016, Sir James Munby, then the President of the Family Division of the High Court and the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, said the shortage had led to social services bosses at councils in England trying to place children in their care in secure accommodation units in Scotland.

– In 2017, a High Court judge raised concern after being told that social services staff could not find a unit which could take an “extremely aggressive” 15-year-old girl who he said should be in secure accommodation. Mr Justice Hayden, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, described the girl, who was in the care of a Greater Manchester council, as a risk to herself and others and said the situation was “profoundly depressing”.

– In 2018, a family court judge raised concern about “yet another young person” who had fallen into a gap in the system because of a “serious shortage of secure accommodation”. Judge Judith Rowe had handled a case involving a 15-year-old boy who was “increasingly beyond the control of his family” at a hearing in London.

– In 2018, a troubled boy was placed in secure accommodation more than 300 miles from home. Judge Richard Scarratt, who oversaw the boy’s case at a family court hearing in Canterbury, Kent, said the youngster came from Kent but was being held in secure accommodation in Scotland. The judge said the boy was “yet another young person” who had fallen into a gap created by a “serious shortage of secure accommodation” for children and described the situation as an “outrage”. He said he hoped that education department ministers “take some action”.

– In 2018, A High Court judge raised concern after a troubled 16-year-old girl could not be found a place in a secure accommodation unit. Mr Justice Francis, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, said everyone involved with the teenager’s case agreed that she needed to be in secure accommodation. But he said social services staff with responsibility for her welfare had been unable to find a secure accommodation unit for her.

– In 2018, a family court judge told of her frustration and outrage after hearing that a place in a specialist secure unit could not be found for a 16-year-old boy who is at risk because of his links with gangs in south London. Judge Mary Lazarus, who analysed the case at a hearing in London, said an opportunity to help the teenager was being lost because there were far too few secure accommodation unit places for troubled children. The judge said the case was “yet another sorry example” of the state failing a child in need and said Government ministers should be made aware of her concerns.

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