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Secure Accommodation: A Care Lawyer’s Opinion

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Secure Accommodation: A Care Lawyer’s Opinion

Care Lawyer Sian Churchill explains what secure accommodation is and gives her opinion on the current situation in the UK. This article was written in light of the recent Judgment: Re X (Secure Accommodation: Lack of Provision).

Please contact us on 01707 329333 or email if you have any queries about the content of this article.

What is secure accommodation?

Secure accommodation refers to a specialist children’s home where a child is not allowed to leave and their liberties are deprived.

A secure accommodation order grants a Local Authority permission to place a looked after child (i.e. one under a Care order or voluntarily so under Section 20 of the Children Act) in one of these specialist children’s homes. These orders are made under Section 25 of the Children Act 1985.

The important regulations can be found here:- The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991. These support the Children Act 1989.

What is the criteria for a secure accommodation order?

This is a very draconian and extreme type of order. It should be used as a last resort to keep a child safe.

There are two reasons that a secure accommodation order would be allowed:

  • the child has a history of running away from other types of placements and they would be likely to suffer significant harm
  • the child is likely to injure themselves or someone else in another type of placement.

How long can a child be kept in secure accommodation?

Initially, the application can only be for 3 months. After that, the applications can be for 6 months at a time.

If the child is under the age of 13 years, then the Secretary of State must give prior approval before they can be placed into a secure accommodation.

What is the 72 hour rule for secure accommodation?

In summary, the 72 hour rule means that a young person can be placed in secure accommodation without a court order for a combined total of 72 hours, in any period of 28 consecutive days.

Is a secure accommodation order permissive?

Yes, these orders are permissive. This means that the Local Authority may do what is listed in the order. However, they are not compelled (forced) to do so.

What happens in a secure unit?

In a secure unit, the child will live in the placement and spend their free time there too. Most secure units have a lounge area with items like board games and a pool table. Once time goes on, and the placement is able to, the child might be able to go into the local area supervised. Sometimes, the accommodation will have on site therapeutic services and education, or have a close link to such services.

Secure accommodation order age limit

A child under the age of 13 years cannot be placed in a secure accommodation which is a community home without the prior approval of the Secretary of State.

The Local Authority can place a child over the age of 16 into secure accommodation if the other criteria above is met.

How many secure units are there in the UK?

There are currently 14 secure children’s homes in England and Wales. These have about 245 places. There are additional units in Scotland which can be used if the case requires it. However, this can be complicated.

2022 Government Report

This government report shows the statistics on secure accommodation in the UK in the year 2021.

The next report, including 2022’s statistics, is due out in May 2023.

Re X (Secure Accommodation: Lack of Provision)

This recent case, heard in the Family High Court, highlights the current problems with the secure accommodation system in the UK.

In summary, this case was about a 15 year old girl, only identified in the judgment as X. X had suffered a lot of trauma in her childhood. She had been absconding from her placements, showing aggressive and threatening behaviour, and had been self-harming and expressing a view of wanting to kill herself. X’s Mother agreed for her to be looked after by the Local Authority under S20 Children Act. X’s behaviour deteriorated and she was made subject to a Secure Accommodation Order. Unfortunately, the placements were not suitable for X and were unable to provide the level of care she required. The judgment sets out some of the ways X harmed herself and others during her time in the placements.

In this case, a placement was found for the child in Scotland, some distance from her home. As explained above, this is not rare. Nonetheless, this can have a devastating impact on the child and extended family. It impacts on the parents’ ability to have contact and keep a bond with their child. It can also leave the child feeling isolated and in despair.

The Judgment to this case was handed down by Sir Andrew McFarlane, Family Law President. The Judge expressed his thoughts on how children were being let down by the process and lack of services available. He provided the following commentary about the system:-

“These specialist units are limited in number and, at present, the number of secure beds is far out-stripped by the number of vulnerable young people who need to be placed in them. Courts are regularly told that, on any given day, the number of those needing a secure placement exceeds the number of available places by 60 or 70. It is not the role of the courts to provide additional accommodation; all the court can do is to call the problem out and to shout as loud as it can in the hope that those in Parliament, Government and the wider media will take the issue up.” – Sir Andrew McFarlane, Family Law President

A Care Lawyer’s Opinion

Are children being failed by the very system we should be entrusting their care into?

The recent case of Re X (Secure Accommodation: Lack of Provision) highlights just how much the system is in crisis.

The facts of this case are devastating to read. However, it is not uncommon for care lawyers to experience cases of this nature. This is always a tragic situation. The lack of provisions available means sometimes the child is placed extremely far away. Otherwise, they may wait a long time for a suitable place to become available.

“It was, I observed, shocking to see that the Department for Education seemed to be simply washing its hands of this chronic problem… It must, I observed, surely be for central government to monitor and, if necessary, get a grip upon what is a long-standing national problem.” – Sir Andrew McFarlane, Family Law President

Secure placements that meet the strict requirements cannot be whipped up out of no-where and this will take time. However, in the meantime, there are children in dire need for such a placement. As a result, they are being badly let down.

It is still to be seen whether this recent Judgment will have any positive bearing on the Government.

Your local care lawyers

At Crane & Staples, we can help with all Public Law Children matters, including care proceedings, secure accommodation (and deprivation of liberty), special guardianship orders and adoption. We have experience in acting for all parties in these matters. Please contact us on 01707 329333 or email if you require any legal advice regarding the above.

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