To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to improve the (a) quality and (b) provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year old children in care.
Local authorities have a duty to consider the placement for each child and are required to ensure that children in care are provided with suitable accommodation that meets their needs.
Many children in care aged 16 and 17 live in foster care or children’s homes, which are inspected by Ofsted. Data from Ofsted’s latest annual report (2017/18) show that 84% of providers are judged as good or outstanding and 2% are inadequate.
We are supporting local authorities to increase sufficiency of fostering, secure and non-secure residential placements and ensure that placements meet children’s needs. This includes investing £5 million in an innovation programme funding 3 projects to increase councils residential care capacity and improve commissioning practice.
In fostering, we have invited local authorities and their partners to bid for seed funding to conduct feasibility studies into new or expanded collaborative approaches. This is across sufficiency planning, commissioning, recruitment and training of foster parents. In addition, arrangements for young people preparing to step up to, or down from residential care, or return home from foster care. The department is also increasing the number of secure children’s homes beds through our £40 million capital grants programme. In addition, the department has invested nearly £6 million in a pilot programme called Staying Close, which will provide further support for young people leaving residential care.
Where it is judged to be in the child’s best interests, local authorities can also accommodate children in care and care leavers aged 16 or 17 in suitable unregulated provision.
Suitable accommodation is defined in regulations in the Children Act Volume 2 statutory guidance, a copy of which is available at the following link: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/441643/Children_Act_Guidance_2015.pdf.
Unregulated accommodation can be the right option for some older children in care and care leavers aged 16 or 17, providing a stepping-stone towards living as an independent adult. In some cases, the quality of accommodation provided may not be reaching the standards we would expect, so I have asked Sir Alan Wood, the Chair of the Residential Care Leadership Board, to collect evidence to help us understand where improvements might be needed.
In light of Sir Alan Wood’s findings, we will consider whether further steps need to be taken to ensure that all children in care aged 16 or 17 are living in settings that are safe and provide the wrap-around support that they need.