Placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation will be banned from September.
Children in care under 16 will no longer be allowed to be accommodated in unregulated independent or semi-independent placements, as part of plans announced by education secretary Gavin Williamson in response to a consultation last year.
In a drive to raise standards in children’s social care, the Department for Education will develop plans to support local authorities in creating more places in children’s homes.
Ofsted will be given new powers to take enforcement action against illegal unregistered providers. It will be able to act quicker to register or close homes, the department said.
The government will introduce national standards for unregulated settings that are accommodating 16 and 17-year-old children in care and care leavers to ensure consistency across the country.
‘Vulnerable children under 16 are too young for the type of accommodation that provides a place to stay but not the care and support that they need,’ said Williamson.
‘We know that for some older young people, independent or semi-independent accommodation can be right in helping them transition to adult life – but these settings need to be consistently high quality. We cannot be complacent about the standards we expect to be met for children in our care,’ he said.
In 2018/19, there were 660 looked after children placed in independent or in semi-independent living accommodation who were under the age of 16. This was 5% of looked after children in these settings during the year.
Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Jenny Coles said: ‘No child should live in unsafe, unsuitable accommodation and we should be working collectively to maintain a sharp focus on improving standards for all children in care.
‘The ban on under-16s being placed in unregulated provision will have wider implications in terms of placement sufficiency which local authorities have long been grappling with. Finding the right placement at the right time for the growing number of children in our care is a priority for all local authorities. However, we face a national shortage of foster carers and a lack of suitable regulated homes.’
The response to the consultation builds on last month’s launch of an independent review into children’s social care.
The education committee will also carry out an inquiry into children’s homes, as part of its work examining the issues faced by left behind groups.
Independent Children’s Homes Association chair Peter Sandiford welcomed the committee’s inquiry but questioned the timing. ‘In a few days the long-awaited care review starts and surely Josh MacAlister’s task is to conduct just such an enquiry but, rather than concentrating on what is one small part of the public care system centering it on the whole system.
‘That being said, the focus of the committee’s enquiry on what can be done to improve outcomes is welcomed. The system itself is in disarray. All too often children come into homes because they have been failed at every step of the “care journey”.’