Secure home shortage means vulnerable children being deprived of their liberty

A new research report highlights the ‘enduring scandal’ of space shortages in secure children’s homes for welfare.

30/03/22

Secure home shortage means vulnerable children being deprived of their liberty

A shortage of secure children’s homes for welfare spaces across England and Wales means children and young people are being deprived of their liberty in inappropriate places, a new report has warned.

The research report by the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) sheds light on court judgments where a child or young person must be deprived of their liberty elsewhere than a secure children’s home for welfare.

The power to place a child or young person in a secure children’s home for welfare comes under section 25 of the Children Act 1989 in England, or section 119 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act.

However, when a local authority is unable to meet the requirements of sections 25/119 because there are no places for a child or young person to be deprived of their liberty in a secure children’s home for welfare, another legal pathway is available to them. This is section 100(4) of the Children Act 1989, where local authorities can apply for an order to deprive a child or young person of their liberty elsewhere.

This legal pathway is intended to only be used in exceptional circumstances if there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is likely to suffer significant harm if not; but the report finds that, because of space shortages, it is being used far too frequently. According to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, applications to the High Court to use section 100(4) to place children in unregulated settings have significantly increased in recent years by 462% over a three-year period.

As a result, judges have been raising concerns, and our second briefing spotlights these cases where judges have commented on the “continuing and acute shortage of appropriate resources” to keep children and young people deprived of their liberty safe.

NYAS’ previous secure children’s homes research report found that across England and Wales, less than half of welfare referrals to secure children’s homes result in placements. It says its findings prove that not enough secure children’s homes for welfare spaces are available – and this number has continued to fall. The 291 available places for children and young people in secure children’s homes across England and Wales in 2010 fell to space for only 223 children and young people in 2021.

“When deciding what is in a child’s best interests, judges should not be forced to choose the best of bad choices,” said Ben Twomey, NYAS Director of Policy and Research. “There are not enough places available in secure children’s homes for welfare, leading to vulnerable children being denied their liberty in unsuitable accommodation. If children are to be deprived of their liberty for their own protection, it must be in proper accommodation with the right support in place.

“Many children and young people who require therapeutic support are being deprived of their liberty in inappropriate settings such as unregulated homes. This crisis must be addressed through providing more spaces in secure children’s homes so that local authorities can fulfil their corporate parenting duties.”

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