Revealed: hundreds of vulnerable children sent to illegal and unregulated care homes in England | Children

In the UK, hundreds of highly vulnerable school-age children are placed in illegal and unregulated homes every year due to a chronic lack of safe local authority places.

Ann observer An investigation found the council placed 706 children, the majority under 16, in homes that were not registered with children’s social care watchdog Ofsted in 2022-23. did.

Most providers who staff and operate unregulated housing are private companies. The investigation found that providers received around £105 million from UK councils last year – equivalent to around £150,000 per child.

it is Offenses under the Care Standards Act 2000 The watchdog group says running children’s homes without Ofsted registration prevents unsuitable people from owning, managing or working in the facilities.but observer It has been revealed that Ofsted launched 845 investigations into suspected illegal children’s homes but did not prosecute a single provider in 2022-2023.

Children’s Commissioner for England Rachel de Sousa said she was stunned by the findings. “Some of these children have multiple, complex needs that require real care, and some have experienced the worst trauma, abuse, and neglect. They are often placed in inappropriate environments that do not meet their needs and have little say in what happens to them.” They are often separated from their loved ones and sometimes denied basic rights such as education. Sometimes it was done. ”

The illegal care system has expanded in recent years as local authorities struggle to cope with the growing number of vulnerable children who pose a danger to themselves or others, or are subject to criminal or sexual exploitation. are doing.

Many of these children often have troubled and traumatic pasts, or histories of running away or finding themselves in dangerous situations, leading to restrictions on their freedom to keep them safe. Subject to court order. However, there is a lack of safe local authority-run homes that can provide therapeutic care within locked buildings.There is Usually about 50 children Waiting for a place every day.

As a result, family courts are being forced to approve severe restrictions on children in unregistered homes. The homes range from rental properties and short-term holiday homes with agents and security guards, to supported accommodation designed for older children who require minimal care. Staff are frequently required to restrain children, but this is not checked by Ofsted.

The new numbers compiled by observer and charity work trust togetherIt shows that between 2020 and 2023, the number of children admitted to illegal children’s homes in England increased by 277%.

Mr de Sousa is particularly concerned about children deprived of their freedom in unregistered institutions. “Children in this country’s most need are often told of children being housed in makeshift rental apartments without proper care.”

Few councils were prepared to reveal the names of the companies involved, but observer Payment records were obtained from a small number of local governments. Swindon Borough Council has placed children in Airbnb rental properties for “short periods” from 2022 to 2023. The council said it had placed the child there with qualified staff while it searched for suitable accommodation. In the same year, another city council hired staff from two security companies to work alongside care workers at illegal children’s homes.

Ofsted says it needs new powers to take action against illegal providers as it remains concerned that children are “at risk of harm” in unregistered homes. Stated. “The Government has committed to giving us additional powers in 2021 to help us act faster against illegal providers. These powers are urgently needed in the interests of children.” the person in charge said.

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Together Trust said council funding cuts had led to a decline in local services, which, combined with long delays in children accessing mental health and disability support, had increased levels of need. Lucy Croxton, the charity’s communications and campaigns manager, said: “There continues to be a national shortage of safe, regulated facilities for children in care, particularly those with complex support needs. “There is,” he said.

The Government has pledged to increase funding for safe children’s homes in recent years, including building two new safe children’s homes in London and the West Midlands. Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt is Announced in March budget The Government has announced it will invest £165m over the next four years to increase capacity in children’s homes.

The Association of Directors of Child Welfare welcomed the funding but warned it was a “drop in the ocean”. Chairman Andy Smith said the council had been forced to use an unregistered house because there was no suitable site. “We know that 15 safe homes have closed since 2002. Two more homes are needed.”

The Ministry of Education said all children in care have the right to live in an environment that meets their needs and keeps them safe.

“Local authorities have a responsibility to provide safe and suitable housing for children and are accountable for the quality of care they provide,” the spokesperson said.

The department added that all providers caring for children under 18 must be registered with Ofsted, which has powers to prosecute.

The report said the funding announced in the budget built on £259m previously announced by ministers to “expand the capacity of children’s homes”.