Lack of secure accommodation sees judge approve plan to lock troubled teenager in council house
A High Court judge has approved a plan which will see a teenager with behavioural difficulties temporarily kept locked in a council house because social services staff cannot find appropriate secure accommodation.
The “contingency” plan has been sanctioned by Mrs Justice Judd, who based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, and is overseeing the youngster’s case.
Mrs Justice Judd has outlined detail of the plan in a ruling, published following a recent private hearing, and described the case as “very troubling”.
The judge says the teenager, who has been referred to only by the letter Z in the ruling, cannot be identified and she has not revealed the youngster’s sex.
Social services bosses at Sutton Council (pictured), in London, have responsibility for the youngster’s care and had asked the judge to approve accommodation arrangements.
The judge said council staff had approached more than 30 institutions in the last few months, but no secure unit was available.
She said evidence indicated that around 40 children were currently waiting for “secure placements” and said she was concerned about the shortage of secure units for children.
“The local authority has come to the conclusion that the only possible contingency plan is to place Z in a council home, rented by them, together with four members of staff who are available to care for and contain Z at all times,” said Mrs Justice Judd in the ruling.
“The proposal is that Z is not allowed out at all, save for appointments when there will be an escort of three staff.
“Z is to be locked into a bedroom at night, and the house will be locked at all times.
“Z will be stripped of all loose items, and restrained in the event of attempted self-harm, attempts to harm others, or to escape.
“All furniture within each room will be secured to the floor or wall.
“There is no doubt that these are draconian restrictions, and that this can be no more than a holding position until a suitable placement becomes available.
“There is no provision here for education or therapeutic support, although a plan is to be drawn up in the next four weeks.
“The local authority does not pretend that this proposal is anything approaching ideal for Z, but they find themselves simply unable to identify any other placement.”
Mrs Justice Judd said the youngster had come to the attention of social workers late in the autumn of 2019 and had left home and gone into council accommodation.
She said three placements had broken down, because it had been “impossible” to meet Z’s needs or to manage behaviour.
In December, Z had been placed in a secure accommodation unit, with the approval of another judge.
But Mrs Justice Judd said, in late May, bosses at that unit had told Sutton Council that they wished to terminate the placement because they did not think they could meet Z’s needs.
Mrs Justice Judd said the Children’s Commissioner had been told about the case and she said she hoped ministers would see her ruling.
She is the latest in a series of family court judges to raise concern about the shortage of secure units for children in England and Wales in recent years.
Nearly four years ago, the then most senior family court judge in England and Wales raised concern. Sir James Munby, then president of the Family Division of the High Court, said in October 2016 that the problem had led to social services bosses at councils in England trying to place children in their care in secure accommodation units in Scotland.
A few months ago, Mr Justice Cobb, who is also based in the Family Division of the High Court, raised concern when considering a case in which a teenager was placed in a holiday cottage because no suitable placements were available.
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