Proposals for national standards in unregulated accommodation outlined by DfE
Education Secretary opens consultation on proposed standards for ‘unregulated accommodation’ for 16- and 17-year-olds, and announces continuation of schemes supporting care leavers.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (Monday 24 May) announced his proposed standards to improve the quality of unregulated accommodation for children in care.
The new national standards would apply to all unregulated independent or semi-independent placements – which are not currently regulated by Ofsted – for 16- and 17-year-olds in or leaving care, to ensure quality and consistency of provision across the country, the Government says.
In February, the Department for Education (DfE) said it would ban such accommodation for children aged 15 and younger, but insists that independent and semi-independent provision can still be the right option for some older children where it is high quality and meets their needs.
However, the Department for Education is currently facing a legal challenge from campaigners who feel this does not go far enough and say the ban should be extended to children in care of all ages.
“Every young person in care deserves to live in accommodation that meets their needs and keeps them safe – anything less is unacceptable, and so continuing to prioritise children in care or leaving care is absolutely vital,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
The number of children in care placed in unregulated settings has increased from 2,900 in 2009 to 6,490 in 2020. Freedom of Information requests, obtained by the Mail on Sunday this week, also found nearly 1,300 reports of abuse against children in unregulated settings with the true number likely to be even higher due to four in ten councils failing to respond to the requests.
The DfE has proposed four standards for these settings relating to leadership and management; protection; accommodation; and support – however critics of the plan are already suggesting this is not enough when compared to the nine quality standards in place for registered children’s homes.
However Carolyne Willow, Director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said the standards were “woefully inadequate”.
“They miss out any requirement to provide care to children in care, even though we know that 4 in 10 teenagers who enter care are put straight into unregulated accommodation. Children are not coming into care simply for a roof over their head; they need care and nurturing to help them recover from past abuse, neglect and trauma as well as to help them do well in their studies and prepare for a good future life.
“Ministers have deliberately omitted care so that providers of unregulated accommodation don’t have to follow the children’s homes quality standards. […] This is running a care system for very vulnerable children on the cheap.”
The consultation is looking for views from the children’s social care workforce, and those in relevant organisations, on how best to differentiate between providers delivering ‘care’ or ‘support’ and how best to define this provision in future. It also asks what the best provision in the sector looks like.
The DfE is also seeking views on how these settings should be regulated by Ofsted, looking at whether the regulator should have powers to carry out announced or unannounced inspections of services, take enforcement action such as issuing compliance notices to services that fall short of national standards, and shut down providers and services where appropriate.
The Government has also said it will fund a range of schemes to support those that are either in or leaving care, including the continuation of ‘Staying Put’, which helps looked after children stay with their foster carers after their 18th birthday if they wish to; extending the ‘Staying Close’ pilot which gives extra support for young people leaving residential care; and intensive support to care leavers at high risk of homelessness.
The DfE says it will also provide an extra 5,000 laptops for care leavers through the Get Help with Technology scheme, which they say will help to prevent loneliness and isolation. The laptops and routers will mean they can more easily keep in touch with their Personal Advisers and wider support networks, as well as helping them access support services such as for education, mental health support and searching for employment opportunities online.
The measures come ahead of Ministers across Government convening for the third meeting of the Care Leaver Covenant Board to discuss actions to support care leavers in securing and maintaining suitable accommodation.
The consultation on national standards, which will run for eight weeks until 19 July, will consider the views of children in care, care leavers, councils and experts and leaders in the sector.
See the proposed standards in full and share your views with the consultation:
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