‘Serious lack of alternatives’ amid unregulated accommodation ban for children with complex needs

The recent ban on placing vulnerable children in unregulated care settings is acting as a “pressure cooker” amid a serious lack of alternatives, a social services boss has warned.

Charlotte Ramsden, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), told MPs that councils are doing their best but there is a “serious lack of appropriate provision” for children with complex needs.

Since September it has been illegal for children under 16 to be placed in unregulated accommodation in England.

Last week the BBC reported that an absence of places in registered homes means councils are turning to family courts to detain children in temporary accommodation, such as holiday lets.

Ms Ramsden (pictured) said it is “increasingly common” for councils looking to keep children in unregistered accommodation without breaking the law to seek a deprivation of liberty order.

Asked about the impact of the new rules, she told the Education Committee on Tuesday: “Nobody wants to be using unregulated provision for under 16-year-olds and this is a case of desperation, really.

“So there is a serious lack of appropriate provision to meet the needs of these really complex young people, and so a lot of those situations are being developed in crisis when there is literally nowhere else for a young person to go.

“And obviously within that, local authorities are doing their best to manage them and keep them safe, but it is not something that we want to be doing. It’s about creating alternatives that mean that’s unnecessary.

“And what’s happened with the ban is it’s just acting as a pressure cooker, really.”

She added that the situation is “pretty challenging” in the absence of alternatives, and it is a “significant concern” that local authorities are increasingly seeking deprivation of liberty orders.

Asked about the BBC’s recent report, she said: “It’s become increasingly common and that’s something obviously that the courts are also concerned about.

“I mean, to be clear, when deprivation of liberty is sought, it’s in the context of a multi-agency plan for a child.

“The court isn’t giving authorisation for the use of an unregulated placement, but it is recognising that there is a plan that in theory will meet that child’s needs. And that’s the basis on which the deprivation of liberty is given.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We agree that every young person in care deserves to live in accommodation that meets their needs and keeps them safe – councils are responsible for providing suitable, safe accommodation for vulnerable children in their care.

“The Chancellor has announced investment worth nearly £300 million to help them meet this duty, by increasing the number of places in open and secure children’s homes, and we have consulted on national minimum standards for any unregulated provision accommodating 16 or 17-year-olds.

“It builds on work that has already started to maintain capacity and expand provision in existing secure children’s homes, alongside new capital funding to help councils create new homes.

“The independent review of children’s social care is also ongoing and is aimed at addressing the sector’s major challenges as part of its wholesale review.”

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