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Unregulated Accommodation: 16 to 17-year-olds

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Government Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 7:32 pm, 15th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. This is a complex problem and we have a rising number of children in care, which we need to get to grips with. Those children are predominantly at an older age, which is resulting in such outcomes. So there are strains on the supply of accommodation. I will get on to the rest of what he raised within my speech, if he will just be patient with me.

As I said, a rising number of children are in care, and most of them live in registered children’s homes or foster care. However, the age of those children is rising; the demand on the system is increasing; and it is a somewhat unprecedented situation. We are not only taking steps to help local areas to manage the situation, but supporting local authorities to improve the work that they do with families to safely reduce the number of children who enter care in the first place—something I am particularly passionate about. Last week, I announced the investment of £84 million over five years to support 18 local authorities to do exactly that, as part of the strengthening families programme. We have already provided funding through our £200 million children’s social care innovation programme, and £5 million of that funding is specifically targeted at residential care.

For the most vulnerable children who need secure provision, we are working to increase the number of beds in secure homes through our £40 million capital grants programme. We are funding local authorities, with £110 million to date to implement “staying put” arrangements, under which care leavers remain with their foster carers while they are under 21. We are working with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help local authorities to develop more effective accommodation pathways for care leavers.

Currently, a small but growing number of children are placed in settings that are not registered with Ofsted. Some of these settings are not registered because they provide only accommodation and not care, although they may provide some support. They offer semi-independent living for older children and care leavers who are ready to live with some independence, and they can act as a stepping stone to adult life. Let me be clear, though: we set a high bar for the level of care that must be provided by registered children’s homes, and children who need this care should not be placed anywhere else.

I have visited some excellent examples of semi-independent living, even in my own constituency. There is a place for this type of provision when local authorities have taken the required steps to ensure that it is of high quality and is used appropriately.