Minister issues prosecution warning to those involved in illegal children’s homes

Placing vulnerable youngsters in illegal children’s homes is “unacceptable”, an education minister has told Parliament.

Condemning the practice, Baroness Barran (pictured) pointed out that running unregulated properties is an offence and those involved face prosecution.

The Tory frontbencher made her comments after concerns were raised about a sharp rise in the use of unregulated homes during a debate in the House of Lords on children in care.

Labour peer Lord Wood of Anfield, a former adviser to Gordon Brown, told the upper chamber that increased financial pressures on councils had created “a big shortage of local authority-funded placements”.

He added: “The real crisis, though, comes from how local authorities, purely through constraint and pressure, have been forced to respond in different ways.

“Firstly, a huge increase in private sector residential care, now 85% of all homes.

“Why is it important? Because that is when local authorities lose control of the type, location and cost of provision.

“It’s when private equity involvement increases, often with up to 20% margins for the largest companies, leading to sometimes dangerously high levels of debt, the risk of which is borne ultimately by the local authorities and the very children who we’re supposed to be protecting.

“Secondly, hundreds of vulnerable children are now being sent to unregulated homes every year because of the chronic shortage of places – a 277% rise in the number of children placed in unregulated children’s homes since the pandemic.

“Just think of that, the most vulnerable children of all in illegal placements.”

Former social services watchdog Lord Laming said: “Sad to say that the record of the state as a substitute parent all too often falls well short of an acceptable standard.

“This is partly because, over the last decade, many local authorities thought it a good idea to outsource their services.

“In a nutshell, this meant they placed the provision of these much-needed local services into the hands of private companies, and in some cases, hedge funds.”

The independent crossbencher, who previously served as chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, continued: “Many children are being placed huge distances away from their home area, from their wider family, from their school, their friends and even their siblings.

“Even worse, many are being placed in unregistered accommodation.”

He added the financial charges from private providers of child social care “can be nothing short of breathtaking”.

Responding, Lady Barran said: “The Government is allocating over £400 million to local authorities for children’s homes increasing both open and secure facilities.

“It is not acceptable that unregistered provision is being used and running an unregistered children’s home is obviously an offence and Ofsted has the powers to prosecute those involved.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2024, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) House Of Commons.