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Lack of care in new regulation of placements for 16-17-year-olds criticised

But government says new standards will end "rogue" profiteering providers...

Nadhim Zahawi, education secretary

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 16 December, 2021

The government confirmed it will introduce new standards on accommodation for children aged 16 and 17 in England from 2023 but they will not include a duty to provide care.

The standard, which are currently being produced to be published next year, will be backed by regulation and inspection from Ofsted with placements needing to be registered.

The move aims to end “rogue” providers which education secretary Nadhim Zahawi accused of putting “profit above the needs of the young people they look after”.

A lack of regulation of providers – the majority of which are privately run - has seen some children accommodated in tents, caravan, barges and other inappropriate settings.

In September the law changed to ban unregulated provision for children under 16, effectively requiring them to be inspected as children’s homes and provide a similar level of care.

Following consultation, the government said this will not be extended to placements for 16 and 17-year-olds who will receive “support” rather than “care”.
Ministers maintain they have listened to local authorities and providers who expressed concern that “over-regulation would lead to excessive and disproportionate costs for provision”.

Instead, a light touch inspection of a “representative sample” of providers is favoured with a duty on providers to provide “support” rather than “care”.

Campaigners, however, expressed dismay at this, maintaining thousands of young people will be left vulnerable.

Carolyne Willow, director of children’s rights charity Article 39, said: “Today’s government response to its consultation on care-less standards continues the development and consolidation of a new market for providers wishing to run properties for children in care aged 16 and 17 without having to follow the quality standards for children’s homes.

“Instead of making providers follow these existing standards, perhaps with modifications when establishments only care for children approaching adulthood, ministers are pressing ahead with an alternative, rudimentary set of standards which are devoid of any requirement to provide care to children.

“How can it possibly be acceptable for children to be in the care of the state and not receive any care where they live?”

Willow said only inspecting a sample of properties meant there was a risk of “poor practice being missed” and children’s voices not being heard.

She added: “I’m sure that, at some point in the future, we will collectively as a country look back to this time with huge regret and dismay and wonder what on earth possessed us to regulate the children’s care system to officially stop caring at age 16.”

A petition led by the Together Trust calling on the government to guarantee care up to 18 has so far been signed by almost 10,000 people.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi claimed the new measures would stamp out “rogue” providers putting profits ahead of the wellbeing of children.

He said: “We cannot – and will not – accept poor quality or unsafe accommodation for children in our care, who are often among the most vulnerable in our country. 

“That’s why I have asked Ofsted to take action against poor quality or rogue providers of supported accommodation, some who value profit above the needs of the young people they look after, tarnishing the reputation of the thousands of dedicated people working in social care.”

He also announced £12 million to provide more secure accommodation placements for children in England.  

Ofsted welcomed the new standards claiming they will help tackle a lack of consistency in the quality of placements.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman said: “New standards and oversight are absolutely necessary, so I’m pleased that Ofsted has been asked to develop a regulatory system and inspection framework for supported accommodation.

“All young people deserve to live somewhere they feel happy and safe, which is why we are developing a system that places the interests of young people at its heart.”