Secure Accommodation: Policy and Practice Guidance
This chapter sets out the statutory criteria, legal requirements and procedural arrangements to be followed in respect of the use of secure accommodation. This chapter also includes Placement of Children aged under 13 in Secure Accommodation.
This chapter was amended in December 2019 to fully reflect the updated guidance ‘Secure children’s homes: how to place a child aged under 13 (July 2018)’. (See Placements of Children under the age of 13 Years). Also see: Appendix 4: Procedures to be Followed where the Approval of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is sought for the Placement of a Child Under the Age of 13 in a Secure Children's Home.
|1.1||Secure accommodation has an important role to play amongst the range of childcare services and facilities available to local authorities. In terms of safety and security of premises, the skills and enhanced levels of staff available, and the specialist programmes which can be provided, a secure placement may be the most appropriate, and only way of responding to prevent a young person suffering Significant Harm, or injuring themselves or others. However, restricting the liberty of a young person (i.e. "child" as defined within Section 105 of the Children Act 1989) is a serious step, which must only be taken when there is no appropriate alternative.|
|1.2||The Children Act places a duty upon local authorities to take reasonable steps designed to avoid the need for young people to be placed in secure accommodation. Placements must therefore be viewed as "last resort" in the sense that all else must first have been comprehensively considered and rejected - never because no other placement was available at the relevant time, or other difficulties.|
|1.3||It is important in considering the possibility of a secure placement that there is a clear view as to what is hoped to be achieved by the placement and how this fits into the overall care plan. Young people should not be placed without a firm plan having been made for their exit. Similarly, once made, secure placements should be only for so long as is necessary and unavoidable. Care should be taken to ensure that young people are not retained in security simply to complete a predetermined programme of work.|
|1.4||In planning placements, and when considering any decision regarding a young person looked after in secure accommodation, the local authority must have regard to its general duties under Section 22 of the Children Act 1989. In particular, the local authority must safeguard and promote the young person's welfare (Section 22(3) (a)). Similarly, in so far as is reasonably practicable, account must be taken of the wishes and feelings of the young person, his parents, any other person who has parental responsibility for him, and any person whose wishes and feelings they consider to be relevant (Section 22 (4)). When placements end it is important that plans are made for continuity of care, education and, where appropriate access to professional (e.g. psychiatric / psychological) support.|
|1.5||In keeping with the principles of Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 the local authority will have to satisfy the Court if an application is made that the Order will positively contribute to the young person's welfare. The Court if satisfied the statutory criteria are met, must make an Order.|
|1.6||Secure accommodation must only be used after a careful analysis of the needs and circumstances of the young person concerned, including the potential risk to self and others, and an examination of all alternative courses of action. These procedures aim to provide guidance to staff and describe the processes to be followed.|
Note: Placements in Scotland: Schedule 1, Children and Social Work Act 2017, which came into force in May 2017, now enables local authorities to make placements in Secure accommodation under Sect 25 (1989 Children Act) by amending: the Children Act 1989; the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential and Transitional Provisions, etc. 2013); The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991; Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2013 and Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
The issue of restrictions to local authority support for children living abroad (Schedule 2, Children Act 1989) no longer apply to a child placed in secure accommodation in Scotland under Section 25.
2. Statutory Criteria
Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 specifies certain criteria that must be satisfied before a young person can be placed in secure accommodation. The criteria vary, depending on the legal status of the young person.
2.1 General Criteria
The young person has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other accommodation; and if they do so, is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
If kept in any other description of accommodation s/he is likely to injure her/himself or other persons.
3. Local Criteria
The policy of the local authority is to apply the following "local criteria" when deciding whether the use of secure accommodation is appropriate. In order to authorise a young person's placement in secure accommodation, or to make an application to the Courts, the Secure Accommodation Panel must be satisfied that at least one of the criteria from Section "A" are met, and all of criteria are met within Section "B";
|(A:I)||The young person has exhibited a history of persistent violence evidenced by repeated conviction for Actual Bodily Harm, Grievous Bodily Harm, malicious wounding, attempted murder or robbery (or offences of a similar nature or gravity).|
|(A:ii)||The young person is charged with an offence/offences of an extremely serious nature (e.g. murder, rape, arson).|
|(A:iii)||The young person is likely to suffer significant harm and/or is likely to cause harm to others because of persistent criminal behaviour.|
|(A:iv)||The young person is placing his/her safety in danger because of a pattern of severe self-harm or risk-taking behaviour.|
|AND(B)||There is positive evidence the situation cannot be contained in an open placement except in the case of (A:ii) above where there is no previous knowledge of the young person and insufficient information upon which to form a judgement.|
|3.2||It is recognised that all cases will not fall neatly into the above criteria. In some instances, it might be appropriate to consider the use of secure accommodation where young people meet the statutory but not the local criteria.|
|3.3||The intention of the local criteria is to add precision to the statutory framework, particularly in view of the seriousness of the matter under consideration, and the possible adverse effects, which a secure placement might cause the young person in the short and / or longer term. Running away as a criterion in its own right is not included as there are many reasons which may underpin this type of behaviour. In this regard a range of placement and other resources have been, and continue to be, developed with the aim of dealing with running away behaviour, and thus reduce the need to place young people in secure accommodation.|
|3.4||The decision to use secure accommodation is not an easy one to make since it often involves risk-taking and attempting to strike a balance between the interests of the young person and the risks or dangers which the young person's behaviour might cause to others. As a consequence, decisions regarding the course of action which the local authority is to adopt need to be located and reviewed at a senior management level.|
4. Placement of Children Aged Under 13 in Secure Children's Homes
In circumstances where children under 13 are to be placed in a secure placement, prior approval of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is required by a local authority, under Regulation 4 of the Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991.
The only circumstance in which the Secretary of State's approval is not required before a child aged under 13 is placed in secure accommodation is where there is a court order requiring the child to be kept in secure accommodation (e.g. an order with a security requirement, under Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969).
Once such a secure placement which has been approved by the Secretary of State ceases, and while the child concerned remains under the age of 13, it will be necessary for the local authority to seek the further prior approval of the Secretary of State should it again wish to place that child in a secure children's home. However, when the local authority approaches the court for an extension to a secure order, the Secretary of State's approval is not required unless there has been a break in the secure placement.
In cases where children are remanded or committed to a secure placement following the granting of an order from the court, the approval of the Secretary of State is not required in any circumstances regardless of the age of the child (see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure).
The procedures to be followed where the Secretary of State's approval is required for the placement of children aged 13 in secure children's homes can be found in Appendix 4: Procedures to be Followed where the Approval of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is sought for the Placement of a Child Under the Age of 13 in a Secure Children's Home.
5. Legal Requirements
|5.1||Young people under the age of 13 years may not be placed in secure accommodation without the prior approval of the Secretary of State. If and when consideration is required this will be through the Head of Service with case responsibility, in consultation with the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care. Further details can be found in Appendix 4: Procedures to be Followed where the Approval of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is sought for the Placement of a Child Under the Age of 13 in a Secure Children's Home.|
|5.2||The local authority can only authorise a placement in secure accommodation for up to 72 hours, whether or not consecutive in any period of 28 consecutive days. In Merton this authorization can only be given by a DCS or delegated senior manager. If the placement is to be continued beyond this period, authorisation has to be given by a Court.|
|5.3||A Court is empowered to authorise the initial placement to continue for up to 3 months. If it proves necessary to continue the placement beyond 3 months, subsequent applications must be made to the Court when it can authorise the placement to continue for separate periods of up to 6 months on each occasion.|
|5.4||It is the duty of the Court to determine whether the statutory criteria are satisfied. If they are so satisfied then the Court must make an Order authorising the young person to be kept in secure accommodation and specify the maximum period for which s/he may be so kept. The Order is permissive and enables but does not oblige the authority to continue the placement for its duration.|
Having granted an order, if at any stage the criteria for keeping the young person in secure accommodation cease to apply, they should be released, as the court's authorisation is merely that - an authorisation.It is important to remember that it is unlawful for the liberty of a young person to be restricted unless the criteria are met, no matter how short the period in security. Equally there should not be an assumption that because a young person meets the criteria set out in legislation, placement in secure accommodation is automatically appropriate.
Where there is an intention to keep a young person in secure accommodation beyond the 72 hours period, the Child's social worker should inform;
|5.7||A person with Parental Responsibility for a young person looked after under Section 20(1) of the Children Act 1989, may at any time remove them from the accommodation which has been provided (Section 20(8)), unless they are the subject of a Care Order (Section 31), or the exceptions in Section 20(9) apply. This includes removal from placements in secure accommodation, whether or not the authority of the Court to restrict the liberty of the young person has been obtained. However, in line with the requirements of the regulations and guidance covering voluntary arrangements, a written agreement about the placement made between the local authority and the parents should include the expected duration of the placement and the arrangements for bringing the placement to an end.|
|5.8||In every case the child must be legally represented when an application is made for a Secure Accommodation Order.|
|5.9||Applications to a Court for authority to restrict the liberty of young people relying on general criteria are "specified proceedings" within the meaning of Section 41 of the Children Act. As such, the Court is required to appoint a Children's Guardian unless it is of the opinion that it is unnecessary to do so in order to safeguard the young person's interests. A Children's Guardian is not appointed in criminal proceedings.|
|5.10||Courts empowered to make secure orders are the Family Proceedings Court (or County or High Court where an Order is made in the course of other proceedings in such Courts). In all cases a right of appeal lies to a higher court.|
6. Procedural Arrangements
|6.1||Cases that meet the local and statutory criteria and are agreed by the Head of Service and Assistant Director to require the use of secure accommodation must be referred for consideration by the nominate decision-makers. These decision-makers will constitute the Secure Accommodation Panel. Given the need for decisions to be made at short notice those involved will to some extent be influenced by availability. Two officers need to be involved in the decision-making, one of whom should be the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care or a covering officer of equal or greater seniority. Decisions regarding secure accommodation cannot be delegated to officers below the level of Assistant Director of Children's Social Care. The second officer should be a Head of Service or Operations Manager not responsible for or closely involved in the case.|
The process will usually be initiated following either a Planning Meeting and/or Looked After Review followed up by a referral from an Assistant Team Manager or Team Manager to the Head of Service with management responsibility for the case. Once a referral has been made, the following will take place:
|6.3||The Head of Service will decide whether it is appropriate to convene a panel of senior managers and whether (with legal advice) there is sufficient evidence for making an application to the Court.|
|6.4||The need for a panel is indicated, the Head of Service will contact the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care to agree and make the necessary arrangements.|
|6.5||Operations staff will be advised of the need to prepare a report for the panel as a matter of urgency as this is required by the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care in advance of the meeting (see Appendix 1: Report Guidelines - Report of the Director of Children's Services).|
In advance of the panel, enquiries will be made by the Access to Resources regarding the availability of an appropriate placement.
In the event of emergencies the following will apply;
(a) In hours:
Where circumstances do not allow a case to be brought before the Court, the appropriate Head of Service will, depending on the circumstances, refer the case to the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care in order to gain written authorisation for the placement. When giving authorisation the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care must be satisfied (as s/he could subsequently be required to demonstrate to a Court) that when placed the young person satisfied the criteria, and would be likely to be made the subject of an Order if the case were heard by a Court. It is not therefore possible for authorisation to be given in advance, or as a contingency for events which may occur.
Young people who enter secure accommodation in this way will be subject to a maximum stay of not more than 72 hours and be placed subject to the discretionary powers of the Director of Children, Schools & Families.
(b) Out of hours:
Where there is a request for a secure placement the Emergency Duty Social Worker (EDSW) (See Scheme of Delegation, Secure Accommodation) should contact the Head of Service on call who will attempt to contact the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care or the Director of Children, Schools & Families for authorisation. This should be reported to the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care and the Head of Service with responsibility for the child at the earliest opportunity. Advice about this course of action must be sought from out of hours legal advisors who will complete the application for a secure placement once this has been agreed by senior managers and it is established that the threshold has been met.
In situations where the 72 hours period expires before the next working day, in consultation with the out of hours legal advisors, the EDSW will make arrangements for a Court hearing, prepare and serve notices to the relevant parties to the application and make arrangements for the young person to be legally represented. In all cases the EDSW will contact the operational team office at the earliest opportunity on the first working day to inform staff of the position and the outstanding arrangements which require completion.
|6.8||Where young people have been placed in secure accommodation within the above emergency arrangements, a panel must be convened before the expiry of the 72 hour period after which continued placement is subject to an application to the Court.|
The definition of a 72 hour period is complex. It can be formed either by a consecutive period of time of that interval or an aggregate of hours in any consecutive period of 28 days. Special provision is made to take account of circumstances where the time limit expires late on Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday. These are as follows.
Where a young person is placed in secure accommodation between 12 midday on a day before, and 12 midday on a day after a public holiday, or a Sunday, and
|6.10||This extension of the 72 hour rule is intended for emergency placements of young people where both a major proportion of the 72 hours has been used, and it is not possible to arrange for an application to be heard by a Court before the 72 hour limit expires. In any other type of placement, the local authority must bring the application before the Court within the 72 hour period if it is intended the placement should continue beyond that time, especially in those cases where the period would expire on a day when Court does not normally sit.|
|6.11||Given the number of tasks, which have to be completed in a very short period of time, operational staff must be prepared and able to afford the case the highest priority.|
|6.12||If it is agreed that secure accommodation is to be used, operational staff must undertake the statutory requirements listed below.|
7. Practical Considerations
|7.1||Secure Panel - Please refer to Appendix 2: Secure Accommodation Panel Requests - Procedures of this chapter for further information.|
|7.2||Legal Services should be informed as soon as a placement in secure accommodation is contemplated and should alert the Court to a possible imminent application. In consultation with Legal Services, the Social Worker (in exceptional circumstances the EDSW) should arrange for a Court hearing within 72 hours of admission and prepare and serve notices on the relevant parties to the application (See Appendix 1: Report Guidelines - Report of the Director of Children's Services).|
|7.3||The Social Worker should inform the Children's Guardian, if appointed. If the Young Person is already represented, Legal Services should ensure that the Young Person's legal representative is informed. If the Young Person is not already represented, Legal Services must ensure that the Court appoints a legal representative for the Young Person and should liaise with that representative (if not already arranged by the Children's Guardian) and ensure the local authority is legally represented. Liaison with Legal Services will need to take place to discuss the evidence to be used to support the application, and if there is time, prepare a report for the Court, which indicates that the statutory criteria are met.|
|7.4||If the Court is not in a position to deal with the application, it has the power to make an interim order and set a date for a full hearing. The reasons for making an interim order can be various, e.g. shortage of time in arranging the hearing, the need to appoint a Children's Guardian, or the child's solicitor needing more time to take instructions from the young person.|
|7.5||If the child is placed in secure accommodation, arrangements may be made for the application (and further applications) to be heard at the Court in the area where the placement is situated. (This may not always be possible and depends on the circumstances of each individual case). Once the placement has been arranged discussions need to take place immediately with Legal Services and the staff at the secure unit to decide which Court is to be used.|
8. Criteria Reviews
The Children (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 1991 (Reg: 15 and 16), as amended by the Children (Secure Accommodation) Amendment Regulation 1992 describe the statutory duty placed on local authorities looking after young people to review the placements of young people placed in secure accommodation within one month of the start of the placement and thereafter at intervals not exceeding three months. This requirement refers to young people who are subject to:
In Merton, the Secure Accommodation Review Panel considers the situation of all young people it has placed in secure conditions within one month of placement and every three months thereafter. The Review Panel comprises of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (chair) a Head of Service from Children's Services and an appropriate Independent Person (who is neither a Cabinet Member not an officer of the Local Authority). For example, the Independent Person can be from an organisation such as Voice.
In addition Review Panels are serviced by:
Regulation 16(1) requires the appointed persons to satisfy themselves, in respect of each case they review, that:
Regulation 16(2) requires the appointed persons to ascertain and take into account, as far as is practicable, the wishes and feelings of:
If the Secure Review Panel decision is that the criteria for Secure Accommodation is no longer met, there is no lawful justification for continuing to hold the Young Person in Secure Accommodation and they should be removed IMMEDIATELY. It is the responsibility of the Social Worker to have explored/identified a possible alternative open placement (in consultation with the Children's Services Resource Manager), prior to the Review Meeting.If the young person is in secure accommodation having been remanded by a criminal Court with a security requirement, the young person cannot be removed from secure accommodation. The Criminal Court should be informed of the Panel's decision at the next remand hearing.
Appendix 1: Report Guidelines - Report of the Director of Children's Services
Appendix 2: Secure Accommodation Panel Requests - Procedures
Request for Authorisation of Secure Accommodation
Once such a request has been authorised by the Head of Service and the decision has been made to put the case before the Secure Accommodation Panel the following procedure should be followed by the team manager:
- Obtain a date and time for the Panel Meeting from the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care;
- Advise the referring Social Worker accordingly and request that the report (based on Appendix 1: Report Guidelines - Report of the Director of Children's Services) is received at least 2 working days prior to this date (if possible);
- On receipt of the report ensure that it is checked by the Head of Service and submitted to Assistant Director of Children's Social Care the day before the Panel Meeting.
Refer the Social Worker to the guidelines if necessary and / or arrange for the Head of Service for Looked After Children to discuss the case with them.
Review of Secure Accommodation Cases - Procedure
- Team Managers of the fieldwork teams are requested to submit an update on each case currently placed in Secure Accommodation (or will be in Secure Accommodation at the time of the next Review Meeting of the Panel). Reports (based on Appendix 1: Report Guidelines - Report of the Director of Children's Services) should be submitted to the Head of Service no later than seven working days prior to the meeting;
- Reports should be submitted to the Assistant Director of Children's Social Care, one week prior to the Review Panel Meeting date;
- The case responsible Social Worker and Team Manager should be requested to attend the Review Panel Meeting and asked to arrive 15 minutes before the allocated time to discuss case, and update the Head of Service Looked After Children.
Appendix 3: Recommendations to Secure Accommodation Panel
- The Director of Children, Schools & Families Services be authorised to place (name) in Secure Accommodation;
- Secretary of State Approval is required for Placement of Children Aged under 13 in Secure Children's Homes;
- The Director of Children, Schools & Families Services be authorised to seek Secure Accommodation Orders as appropriate from the Court on the grounds that.
For Children Looked After or Remanded
- S/He has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from other accommodation AND if s/he absconds s/he is likely to suffer significant harm;
- If s/he is kept in any other description of accommodation s/he is likely to injure himself or other persons.
Review of Secure Accommodation Where No New Order is Needed
That having regard to the welfare of (name) whose case is being reviewed:
- The criteria for keeping (name) in secure accommodation continue to apply;
- The placement in such accommodation in a community home continues to be necessary and;
- No other description of accommodation would be appropriate for her/him.
Review of Secure Accommodation When a Further Order is Required
That having regard to the welfare of (name) whose case is being reviewed;
- The criteria for keeping (name) in secure accommodation continue to apply;
- The placement in such accommodation in a community home continues to be necessary and;
- No other description of accommodation would be appropriate for him;
- The Director of Children, Schools & Families be authorised to seek further Secure Accommodation Orders as appropriate from the Court
Appendix 4: Procedures to be Followed where the Approval of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is sought for the Placement of a Child Under the Age of 13 in a Secure Children's Home
|1.||A local authority wishing to place a child under the age of 13 in a secure placement should discuss the case with their Team Manager who will steer a further discussion with the Head of Service with responsibility for the case, the Department of Education and the Director. Some initial information will be taken over the telephone by the DfE Children in Care Team.|
Some initial information will be taken over the telephone:
E-mail Documentation will be Requested
This written documentation will include the following:
|4.||Officials from this Department will then discuss the information provided with one of the specialist secure accommodation inspectors at the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills who will make a recommendation as to whether the approval of the Secretary of State should be given.|
|5.||The Department will then consider and advise the local authority of the Secretary of State's decision. Where an application is approved, a letter and certificate will be issued to the local authority on the same day via email or fax (whichever is more convenient). The signed, hard copy will be sent to the Assistant Director or equivalent that supported the application by the local authority.|
DfE Children in Care Team Contact Details
Office hours (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm):
Telephone: 0207 340 7057
|7.||Please note that where applications to place a child under the age of 13 in a secure children's home are made outside normal office hours, the letter and certificate confirming the Secretary of State's approval will not be issued until the next working day.|