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London councils plan to build capital’s first secure children’s home

London boroughs are leading on proposals to design, build and open a new secure children's home in London, using funding from the Department for Education.

25/01/24

London councils plan to build capital’s first secure children’s home

Local authorities in London are working together to design and build a secure children’s home in the capital, addressing longstanding issues with children with complex needs being placed a great distance away due to a shortage of suitable homes.

The proposed service will provide up to 24 specialist welfare placements for highly vulnerable children with complex needs. It will also include accommodation for up to 4 children who no longer need to live within a secure environment but will need a period of extra support to help them achieve a positive transition back into the community.

Ofsted – as well as campaigners, charities and social care leaders – have long warned of a national shortage of welfare placements in secure children’s homes, particularly in London where there is currently no service of this kind. When placements are available, these tend to be a significant distance away from London, and frequently as far as Scotland.

A 2022 report by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, found that local authorities in England and Wales were sending children an average of 353 miles away from family and friends due to a shortage of available places. The research added that, at the time of the survey, more than a third (37%) of children in Scotland’s secure accommodation centres had been placed by English or Welsh local authorities.

Local authorities place children in secure children’s homes on welfare grounds when no other type of care placement can keep the child safe.

Children who need a secure welfare placement are likely to have suffered a great deal of trauma in their lives; have unmet emotional, mental and physical health needs; have experienced a lot of instability; and/or have missed a significant amount of education.

Secure children's homes provide a safe environment where these children can receive the specialist care, education, and support that they need.

As well as supporting London’s most vulnerable children, the councils say the proposed service will help to alleviate serious national capacity issues.

Following a thorough assessment that considered multiple sites around London, part of the existing Thames Water Depot on Lea Bridge Road, in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, has been identified as the most suitable location to build this facility.

The proposals that have been developed are sensitive and respectful of the surrounding area and local context, whilst also meeting the requirements for the new secure children’s home. Consultation with the local community and other key stakeholders about the proposals will take place before an application for planning permission is submitted to the local planning authority. The consultation process with the local community will begin shortly.

The Association of London Directors of Childrens’ Services (ALDCS) – the group for London borough Directors of Children's Services, is working on this project via its sector-led improvement partnership, the London Innovation and Improvement Alliance (LIIA).

London boroughs will oversee the development and running of the proposed provision through a jointly owned not-for-profit company, however the London Borough of Barnet is currently leading the design and construction phase on behalf of London boroughs.

Chris Munday, ALDCS Regional Chair for Commissioning and Resources and ADCS National Chair for Resources and Strategy who is also Executive Director of Children & Families for the London Borough of Barnet said the home will help boroughs provide the support to improve outcomes for London’s most vulnerable children.

“Currently, due to the shortage of secure welfare placements, children are waiting several months for a placement, and these are usually around 200 miles from the capital - far from their families, friends and other people that are important to them. This distance also has a negative impact on the work we do to prepare children to leave secure care and settle back into the community.

“Alongside this, we are seeing a worrying increase in applications to deprive children of their liberty in less suitable provision, because secure welfare provision is just not available.

“This important project, which I am proud to lead on behalf of ALDCS, is part of a wider programme of work that London boroughs are delivering together to tackle the shortage of suitable local placements for the extremely vulnerable children we are working with.”

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