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Labour joins call for complete ban on unregulated accommodation for children

Labour MPs have joined calls for a complete ban on the use of unregulated accommodation for looked-after children.

23/07/21

Labour joins call for complete ban on unregulated accommodation for children

MP and former social worker Emma Lewell-Buck says the Government’s decision not to extend its ban on unregulated accommodation to children aged 16 and 17 left her “disheartened” and “saddened”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Emma Lewell-Buck MP said legislation which forbids the use of unregulated accommodation for children up to 15 years of age denies 16- and 17-year-old children the care they are entitled to.

“The line that [the Government] are ensuring children 15 years of age and below must live in a setting where they receive care is wrong,” Lewell-Buck said. “What this statutory instrument is really doing is legislating to deny children aged 16 and 17 years of age – that’s children in the care of the state – any care at all.”

Lewell-Buck, who was a social worker before becoming MP for South Shields in 2013, said the practice of placing children in unregulated accommodation leaves them without any support and vulnerable to criminal abusers, drugs gangs and sexual exploitation and creates a ‘two-tier’, discriminatory system.

“Children in foster care can remain until they are 21 years old, yet those without a foster family are being told that their leaving care age won’t be 18 as it always has been, but it will now be 16.”

Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, joined Lewell-Buck’s calls, writing on Twitter that the proposals were a “national scandal”.

“Vulnerable teenagers could die through inaction – ministers must not get away [with] this.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced in February that the Government was to ban the placing of children under the age of 16 in unregulated accommodation, with the ban coming into force from September this year.

The ban would mean children in care under 16 will no longer be allowed to be accommodated in unregulated independent or semi-independent placements. Government data shows that there are roughly 100 children aged 15 and younger in this type of accommodation, compared to around 6,000 children aged 16 and 17 - with a third of all 16- and 17-year-olds in care currently living in unregulated accommodation.

However, the Government claims that independent and semi-independent provision can be the right option for some older children, and says it is intended to facilitate supported living for older children developing their independence before they leave the care system.

“We know that for some older young people, independent or semi-independent accommodation can be right in helping them transition to adult life,” Williamson said, announcing the changes in February this year, adding: “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.”

Children’s rights charity Article 39 (?) an application to the High Court for a judicial review of the plans in May, saying the change to the law is discriminatory and an injustice to older children in care.

Carolyne Willow, Director at Article 39, the proposals left older children without protection.

“Families don’t expect our children to go without care and fend for themselves from the age of 16, and neither should the care system,” Willow says. “The majority of children in care have already endured great suffering; we should be ensuring they receive as much love, care and adult help as we can possibly give them, not pushing them into so-called trainer flats, bedsits and hostels before they’ve even finished their GCSEs.”

“England remains a wealthy country and we have many decades of learning about the consequences of not meeting children’s needs and expelling children from care years too early. This legal change suggests the Department for Education needs tutoring in basic child and adolescent development.”

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