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Unregulated Accommodation: 16 to 17-year-olds

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:14 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 7:14 pm, 15th October 2019

“This cannot be right.” Those were the words of Dr Jackie Sebire, the assistant chief constable of Bedfordshire police, after her officers had spent four to five days trying to find a 16-year-old boy who had gone missing from his unregulated accommodation in Bedfordshire. Her officers had spent an enormous amount of time and effort to return the child to a provision that was inadequate, in which no local Bedfordshire authority would place one of their own children and for which there was no regulatory oversight.

The standards in the accommodation in which the 16-year-old was placed were so poor that this young man regularly went missing, and shortly afterwards he became involved in organised crime and went on to recruit other young people into organised crime. So we have, in effect a multiplier of misfortune as a result. The Local Government Association and the police are concerned that children are being drawn into organised crime, including county lines, from unregulated homes. About 2,000 16 and 17-year-olds are placed outside their home local authorities in this type of unregulated provision. That is a doubling over the last five years. Around 5,000 children in total are in this type of unregulated provision—a 70% increase in the last decade.

Let me provide some further illustrations of why regulatory oversight is needed urgently. We know from the brilliant investigation undertaken by Sally Chesworth and her team at “Newsnight” that a 16-year-old girl was brought to a room in one of these homes late at night. It was freezing cold and had no bed sheets and no curtains, even though it was a ground-floor room looking straight out on to a road. We know that staff regularly enter rooms without knocking. We know that a 17-year-old girl was hit in the face by a 6-feet male staff member who would not let her speak to the police about the incident. We know that staff members are being abusive. One child was told, “It wouldn’t matter if anyone kills you. No one cares about kids in care.” Members of opposing gangs were sent by one London borough to the same home in Bedfordshire, where one duly stabbed the other.