'Significant concern' over BBC Newsnight findings on unregulated children's homes

The homes in question often take the form of a normal house on a residential street.
The homes in question often take the form of a normal house on a residential street.

The use of unregulated care homes to look after teenagers in care is a "big concern", members of a Wakefield scrutiny committee have said.

A series of BBC Newsnight reports recently highlighted fears about the welfare of 16 and 17 year-olds in care, some of whom are put up in houses which aren't monitored by Ofsted.

Often called "supported" or "semi-supported" accommodation, they can be set up by individuals with minimal requirements and qualifications. They aren't subject to checks by any government watchdog like children's homes for younger children and foster families.

Although they can offer older children more independence and flexibility, concerns have been raised that they may leave the youngsters at risk of exploitation, if they are not looked after adequately.

In one case, Newsnight was told by police that a child went missing from such a home more than 100 times.

The programme's findings were discussed by Wakefield's children and young people scrutiny committee on Wednesday.

Councillor Celia Loughran said: "I saw the Newsnight programme recently, and I found it very concerning.

"From my experience in social work it's often children from this age group that are the most vulnerable, and we've seen that in the rise of mental health problems for children and young people.

"I do think we need to spend some time looking at this issue."

Around 5,000 children in England are believed to be living in so-called "supported" or "semi-supported" accommodation, which often take the form of traditional houses on a residential street.

Wakefield Council uses unregulated care homes both in and out of the district to look after so-called care leavers, who have been in the care system but are approaching adulthood.

However, the local authority says it only uses such facilities if it is appropriate for the child and makes regular checks on them to ensure they are doing their job.

Beate Wagner, the council's corporate director for children and young people, said: "It's quite right that there should be more options for older children than just children's homes or foster care.

"We do use these arrangements where that's right for them. We do a lot of contract monitoring arrangements behind that.

"We regularly go and visit those establishments to make sure they're keeping up a good standard for those young people.

"Even though there isn't a framework of regulation, we as an authority do make sure they meet quality standards.

"They are young people who are potentially vulnerable. They may still go missing and you don't have that tough regime that you get from regulated children's homes and they may be at risk of exploitation.

"We are doing some work with our police colleagues and asking, "Are there clusters of concerns around some of the providers of these homes?"

Teenagers who are unhappy within supported accommodation are encouraged to tell the local authority ultimately responsible for their care.

But Councillor Kathy Scott said: "Some of these children, if they're vulnerable and easily led, they aren't going to contact us.

"It's a big concern. Having watched that programme, I'd no idea it was as big a concern as what it is. It was a real eye opener."

Ms Wagner said: "Unregulated placements have had a poor press, and there are some justified significant concerns.

"But unregulated placements can be a really good option for some of our care leavers who may have outgrown children's homes or foster care.

"It gives them an opportunity to have a limited amount of independence while still being supported.

"There is a balance to be had here."

Local Democracy Reporting Service