Exclusive: Commissioner for England claims that because of Council deficiencies, children are at risk of ‘corruption or exploitation’
During the pandemic, thousands of the most vulnerable children were sent to unregulated foster homes, costing millions of taxpayers, a Guardian investigation has found. Council bosses complain they have nowhere where to put the most vulnerable children because the number of children in need, which has increased during the Covid crisis, does not have enough facilities. As a result, young people are housed in assisted living facilities that are not supervised by Ofsted and are thus viewed as a danger to safety. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said this year the child protection system had “slipped deeper into crisis” and that after being let down by the authorities, children were now at risk of “abuse or exploitation” Unregulated homes, also referred to as funded accommodation for over-16s, are not inspected in England or Wales by a regulator. Since they are eligible to provide assistance, not treatment, they are permitted under the law, and the young people who are put there live semi-independently.
But because of the lack of regulations, critics argue they are unacceptable.
Children, who in some cases are under 16 when put in these facilities, are at greater risk of drug gangs being abused. A Guardian investigation based on data from 114 councils reveals that, amid demands to abolish these homes, at least 8,373 children were placed in semi-independent accommodation during the pandemic last year.
More than one-third of those placements (2,844) were outside the city, which meant that children were sent to an unregulated area miles away.
Though an incomplete year, the number is higher than the figures for 2018-19, when 7,742 children were put in such housing. More than 25,000 disadvantaged young people have been housed in these shelters over the past three years.
In an anonymous statement, the Children’s Services Commissioners of the City said the housing system for disabled children had broken down and they had no other choice. They cautioned that while it would have an effect on their Ofsted scores, private providers were unable to take on the most difficult young people.
Through sending officers to visit them, councils are being forced to impose their own form of oversight of these homes. The level of controls and balances, however, varies from county to county.
Somewhere that turned out to be a trap house, a place where drugs are kept and sold, a young person the Guardian spoke with said she was housed. Last year, there were also 93 placements – up from 80 three years earlier – in fully unregistered homes for children.
Any unregistered home that, in addition to accommodation, offers an aspect of “care” is acting unlawfully. Longfield said that many unregistered providers, without the safeguards and balances that occur in other care environments, are private entities making a massive profit from vulnerable children. Three-quarters (73%) of unregulated facilities are run privately, and this portion of the care industry is increasingly growing. The financial resources available which attract entrants who know little to nothing about child care, with the consequence that in some settings children are not healthy. She said the coronavirus is likely to plunge more young people into care, placing strain on straii already.
Since 2010, councils have seen budget cuts of 29 percent, and they invested £ 770 million on children’s social care in 2018-19. Due to the small number of councils that replied to a Freedom of Information request from the Guardian, the actual usage of unregulated provision is likely much higher than these figures. Previous studies showed that the average annual placement cost ranged from £ She said that the system has “slipped deeper and deeper into crisis over the past five years and was apparently unable to do so.”