Government to announce ban on councils from placing vulnerable children in unregulated homes

The Government has announced plans to ban local authorities from placing vulnerable children in unregulated accommodation amid growing concern over grooming and county lines drug gangs.

Under the plans, all cared-for children under the age of 16 must be placed in Ofsted-regulated homes.

In November, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson wrote to all council leaders in England saying the use of unregulated placements for children in care should be “eliminated”.

There are more than 6,000 looked-after children and young people in England living in unregulated accommodation, with up to 100 under 16s living in unregulated provision at any one time.

On Wednesday, Mr Williamson (pictured) will announce an eight-week consultation to draw up new powers for Ofsted allowing it to force illegal providers to register, issue fines or permanently close them.

It will also draw up national standards for unregulated accommodation, which will still be legal for young people aged 16 and over, to ensure it is safe and of good quality.

The consultation will also propose new measures requiring councils and local police forces to work together before young people are placed in unregulated accommodation out of their area.

Last year, an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Missing Children and Adults found the “sent away generation” can become magnets for paedophiles and county lines gangs.

It also found councils might be inadvertently extending the reach of county lines networks by relocating youths far from their hometowns when they have already been groomed by drug dealers.

The Education Secretary said: “There are no circumstances where a child under 16 should be placed in accommodation that does not keep them safe.

“That is unacceptable and I am taking urgent action to end this practice and drive up the quality of care provided to all vulnerable children.

“Social workers and council chiefs have to make difficult decisions about the children in their care, so it’s important that we agree an ambitious approach to these important reforms to bring about lasting change in children’s social care.”

The consultation precedes a wider, independent review of children’s social care due to commence later this year.

Yvette Stanley, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said she welcomed the announcement.

“Some of our most vulnerable children are living in places where we don’t know if the people caring for them are suitable or skilled enough to meet their needs – this isn’t acceptable,” she said.

“We’ve also called for better assurance about the quality of unregulated provision for older children.

“We need a system where children are getting high quality care and support, with the right level of oversight.”

Mark Russell, chief executive at The Children’s Society, said: “We are pleased the Government is looking carefully at this issue and recognising the wider issues at play, such as the shortage of places where they’re most needed.”

Cllr Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, was more sceptical of the Government’s proposed ban.

She said: “The increasing use of unregulated settings is being driven by shortfalls in places in registered children’s homes and other settings, particularly for young people with more complex needs.

“The funding crisis facing children’s services is also hindering efforts to develop and maintain the right provision locally that meets the needs of young people.

“Making the use of unregulated settings for under-16s illegal will not solve the problem if the Government does not, first and foremost, work with councils and providers to make sure that we have enough high quality, registered places for children to live so that we can keep them safe.”

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