Putting children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will become illegal under plans announced by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, as the government looks to drive up the quality of children’s social care.
Minimum standards will also be introduced for unregulated accommodation, which provides a place to stay but not care.
The government is also looking to introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation to improve the quality and security of placements.
Under the plans, legislation will be amended so that Ofsted can take legal action before prosecution and issue enforcement notices, which will result in illegal providers either being forced to close, register or face a penalty.
Williamson said: ‘There are no circumstances where a child under 16 should be placed in accommodation that does not keep them safe.
‘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 number of children in care aged 16 or 17 placed in unregulated settings has increased from 2,900 in 2009 to 6,100 in 2019. Up to 100 under 16s live in unregulated provision at any one time.
Unregulated settings can be the right accommodation for some young people as part of their transition to independence.
A consultation, which will run for eight weeks, has been launched ahead of the wider care review. Williamson confirmed the review will look across children’s social care.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: ‘Banning the use of unregulated accommodation for under 16s and new national standards for unregulated accommodation that require registration with Ofsted are long overdue.
‘The government should now go further to make sure every child growing up in care lives in high quality accommodation that suits their needs. This will require financial support for councils so they can grow their own good local provision for children in their local areas.
‘Alongside these urgent changes, I want to see a thorough and independent review of the children’s care system as quickly as possible.’
Cllr Judith Blake, Local Government Association’s children and young people board chair, said: ‘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.
‘Providers of unregulated settings must work with councils, the police and other partners to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people, and we want to work with the government to make sure this happens.
‘It is vital that the government uses this consultation to better understand the pressures on accommodation for children in care and provides appropriate funding and support to ensure that the right homes in the right place are available for all children, whatever their needs.’