Organisations across Bedfordshire have welcomed government plans which could ban the placement of children in care under the age of 16 in unregulated homes
The move by the Education Secretary also proposes new legal powers for Ofsted to crack down on illegal unregistered providers – those providing care for children without being registered to do so – and new measures requiring councils and police forces to work together before placements in unregulated settings are made out of area.
The plans, which were announced yesterday (Wednesday), also include minimum standards being introduced for unregulated accommodation, which provides accommodation but not care.
The announcement of the consultation follows concerns raised by partners across Bedfordshire, including Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire, who has spoken out about the risk of teenagers placed in unregulated homes being exploited by organised crime gangs.
She said: “Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of young people in unregulated care provision is something I care deeply about. The far-reaching proposals being consulted upon could make a significant difference to cared-for children in years to come.
"They focus on improving the quality of support provided to some of the most vulnerable young people in our society who should be getting the best of care – when, sadly, on occasion they are experiencing the worst.
"The fact is, the lack of regulation currently means these young people are often being let down and are being placed at risk of sexual and criminal exploitation – and that is not acceptable.
“This welcome news released by the Department of Education is the result of a collective drive – from the police, the media, in particular Newsnight which ran a series of special features on this issue, many partners and MP Andrew Selous who raised the issue in Parliament.”
MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous highlighted the issue in an Adjournment Debate in Parliament.
There are around 5,000 looked after children in England currently placed in 16+ supported or semi-supported accommodation. The issue was also raised in May 2019 as part of a BBC Newsnight special, and sparked a number of discussions across government.
Mr Selous said: “This consultation with a commitment to urgent action is very welcome to protect vulnerable children and to free up police time to protect other vulnerable people.
"I am very pleased the government has listened and acted.”
Cllr Mahmood Hussain, portfolio holder with responsibility for children’s services at Luton Council, said: “Luton Council has been deeply concerned about the lack of regulation of semi-independent living accommodation for looked after young people and care leavers aged 16 and 17 years.
"And although we always endeavour to exercise due diligence when securing accommodation and support for care leavers, we recognise the urgent need for providers of this type of accommodation to be held account, so that we can always be confident that we are placing young people in accommodation that is safe and fit for purpose.
"We therefore welcome the government’s proposal to introduce new minimum quality standards for this type of unregulated provision to help improve conditions for young people and to ensure they are appropriately safeguarded."
Central Bedfordshire Council's director of children’s services, Sue Harrison, said: “We welcome this national consultation and are very pleased to see the government taking action to ensure vulnerable young adults are kept safe in their accommodation once they leave care.
"We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable youngsters across the country are not placed in unsuitable accommodation.”