Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options - Education Committee Contents

4  'Other arrangements': Suitability, regulation and inspection

39. 22% of looked after 16 and 17 year old young people live in neither residential homes nor foster care, but in what is termed 'other arrangements' (see para 6). Evidence from the DfE addressed the inspection of 'other arrangements':

    Unlike foster and residential care these placements are not regulated under the Care Standards Act 2000 and as a result will not be inspected by Ofsted.

    However statutory guidance says that it is essential that the responsible authority takes every step to establish that the child's needs are matched to the services provided by the placement. Also in every case, before making the placement the local authority must establish that the accommodation is suitable. Our statutory guidance says suitable accommodation is:

    suitable for the child in light of his/her needs, including his/her health needs;

    one in which the responsible authority has satisfied itself as to the character and suitability of the landlord or other provider; and

    complies with health and safety requirements related to rented accommodation.

    Ofsted inspect local authorities' performance on meeting their statutory duties in this area.[82]

Although not cited by the DfE, Transition guidance also states that suitable accommodation is accommodation:

    In respect of which the responsible authority has, so far as reasonably practicable, taken into account the child's

wishes and feelings; and

    education, training or employment needs.[83]

40. Schedule 2 of the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 outlines "matters to be considered before placing [a young person] in accommodation in an unregulated setting [...]":

    1. In respect of the accommodation, the—

    (a) facilities and services provided,

    (b) state of repair,

    (c) safety,

    (d) location,

    (e) support,

    (f) tenancy status, and

    (g) the financial commitments involved for C [the young person] and their affordability.

    2. In respect of [the young person], [the young person's]—

    (a) views about the accommodation,

    (b) understanding of their rights and responsibilities in relation to the accommodation, and

    (c) understanding of funding arrangements.[84]

The Minister assured us that:

    […] there is already some level of light-touch inspection, both by the local authority and how they commission those services, and what they commission them against [the statutory guidance and Schedule 2 outlined above]. Ofsted are then looking at how the local authority are fulfilling that.[85]

41. Ofsted oversees 'other arrangements' by means of the graded judgement within the single inspection framework on the experiences and progress of care leavers, which includes young people who are looked after and are preparing to leave care.[86] The Minister told us that the single inspection framework, which "looks unashamedly at the child's experience", is:

    [...] a better regime for extracting what is important for both the quality of service that young people are receiving and their experiences […].[87]

Ofsted's single inspection framework assesses the experiences and progress of care leavers through scrutinising a "representative sample of at least 25 tracked cases." Ofsted asserted:

    The quality and suitability of accommodation for care leavers contributes significantly to the judgement that inspectors make on the experiences and outcomes of care leavers.[88]


    Case tracking may involve inspectors visiting young people where they are living, when it is possible and appropriate to do so.[89]

42. Catch22 revealed:

    Local authorities have adopted a range of measures to seek to ensure that accommodation provided to young people is safe and appropriate.[90]

Such measures include "regions and sub-regions […] [joining] together to adopt quality frameworks with standards and expectations",[91] as well as the adoption and development of existing "vetting and approval processes".[92] Nevertheless, while YMCA England told us that some local authorities do "provide a decent variety of accommodation which supports the needs of this group",[93] Ofsted's inspection evidence found that there is "significant variation in the quality and sufficiency of accommodation for care leavers".[94],[95] The Who Cares? Trust reported anecdotal evidence from young people about living in:

    […] unsafe and unsuitable accommodation […] sharing accommodation with other young people who are violent or addicted to drugs, of having their rooms broken into and property stolen, of houses being dirty, ill-equipped, or having problems with ants and mice [...] about staff leaving the accommodation during their shifts and leaving young people in vulnerable situations [and] anecdotal evidence of 16 and 17 year olds sharing accommodation with adults who are over 18.[96]

43. Just for Kids Law Youth Ambassadors also reported that young people had described accommodation as: "'terrible', 'unbearable', 'small and dirty' […] [infested with] cockroaches, wood lice and bed bugs".[97]

44. Not only is alternative accommodation[98] often unsuitable, but more worryingly, it is also often unsafe. Our informal discussions with young people gave us an alarming insight into the deficits in the suitability and safety of some of the alternative accommodation in which 16 and 17 year olds are placed. One young person told us of being placed in a hostel in which there were no adults present and only one security camera outside the building.[99] She was concerned that anything could be going on inside the hostel and no one would know. Although her needs were not judged to be that high, she felt that this overlooked the fact that she was still only 16 years old. Another young person described her time in a hostel as "the worst experience of my life", where other residents were taking drugs and drinking alcohol. She told us that she was "beaten up", simply for being new to the hostel and the youngest resident. It was four days before her social worker deemed the placement to be unsafe; in the meantime she just "locked [herself] in [her] room". Such accounts were corroborated by the Coram Group's experience:

    […] social work assessment identifying suitable accommodation is often inadequate and hence unsuitable accommodation is provided in which safety issues, such as threats from gang members, domestic violence and other safeguarding concerns are not properly considered.[100]

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) argued that the absence of set standards and Ofsted inspections presented the opportunity for:

    […] abuse and neglect given that vulnerable young people in these settings can become isolated and subject to exploitation.[101]

45. Several submissions recommended strengthening the regulation and inspection of 'other arrangements'. For example, BASW was:

    […] firmly of the view that the government needs to apply regulatory duties to all accommodation providers who accommodate looked after children in order that they are appropriately safeguarded and the provision meets acceptable standards.[102]

This view was shared by frontline professionals and young people alike. A survey of frontline staff conducted by Catch22 found that nearly 95% either 'strongly agreed', or 'agreed', that "Supported accommodation should be more closely regulated".[103] In addition, The Who Cares? Trust reported that "Young people who live in alternative accommodation are concerned that there is no regulatory body to inspect homes".[104]

46. Professor Mike Stein identified "The lack of regulation" as his main concern about the quality and safety of the accommodation on offer.[105] He added that there should be "a thorough review of the way […] alternative accommodation is regulated".[106] Other witnesses agreed in oral evidence that there needed to be stronger quality assurance mechanisms for 'other arrangements'.[107]

47. Witnesses differed, however, over whether suitability should be ensured through regulation (for example by extending existing legislation) or through the creation of quality standards, specific to the kinds of accommodation in question. On the one hand Professor Mike Stein suggested, "The legal framework, the Care Standards Act 2000, could be extended to unregulated accommodation".[108] On the other hand, Catch22 cautioned against overly rigorous and universal regulation:

    […] any universal approach to regulation and quality assurance would face considerable challenges, the diversity of situations, models and approaches would make the development of standards and expectations difficult.[109]

    Regulation may also stifle the creativity in support arrangements needed to allow young people to practice their independence skills. Residential or foster care standards would not be appropriate in many cases. We would favour a less mechanistic approach than current fostering and residential standards and inspection.[110]

48. Catch22's Director of Young People and Families, Sally Morris, reiterated this point in oral evidence and instead proposed a "national framework […] that would not be too difficult to pull together". She said, it would "need to be simple to cater for the range of accommodation that falls into that alternative accommodation that is not currently regulated", suggesting that:

    It could bring together some of the schedule [2] guidance in the regulations that is fragmented and in different places at the moment […] It does not need to be too onerous [and would cover] all the basic standards that you would expect to see […].[111]

49. Despite differences over the specific formulation of a national framework, witnesses agreed that a practical arrangement would be for local authorities to be held accountable to a set of standards, however defined, through Ofsted's "regulation, oversight and inspection of the conduct of the local authority and its commissioning arrangements".[112] Ofsted itself was:

    […] not convinced [...] that stronger regulation of a complex and varied sector would address the uneven quality of care and support for young people.[113]

It added:

    [...] consideration may need to be given to strengthening the guidance for commissioning unregulated providers, such as through the use of quality standards. This has the potential to raise standards and Ofsted would evaluate this through the single inspection framework.[114]

50. The Minister was similarly cautious about over-regulating, arguing:

    [...] whenever there is some poor practice [...] there is always the option to look to regulation to try to plug the gap [...] you have to be careful that you don't over-regulate.[115]

Despite this position, the Minister assured us of his commitment and determination to "do whatever it takes" to see improvements in the way young people are served by the care system:

    I remain determined to continue to push the boundaries where they need to go, whether that is by delivering services differently, having a sharper focus on certain areas of the system, or improving quality assurance or accountability-whatever it takes. I want to do what I can to make sure that children themselves get what they deserve.[116]

51. 'Other arrangements' for looked after 16 and 17 year olds are too often neither safe nor suitable, a situation exacerbated by the lack of a regulatory regime for this kind of accommodation. The diversity of the provision presents difficulties for the implementation of stronger, universal regulation, but the challenges are not so great as to justify the continuation of inadequate and ineffective quality assurances for 'other arrangements'.

52. While we welcome the emphasis that the single inspection framework places on the experience of individual children, we are concerned that a methodology based on tracking a sample of cases will fail to ensure the suitability of all 'other arrangements'. This would not be an acceptable approach for other settings, such as schools or residential children's homes, and it should not be acceptable for the accommodation in which some of society's most vulnerable young people are housed.

53. Quality standards will not suffice as a guarantee of safe and suitable accommodation. By focusing on and overcoming the obstacles to more comprehensive regulation, the Minister could demonstrate his commitment and determination to "do whatever it takes [...] to make sure that children themselves get what they deserve".

54. There are measures to ensure the quality and safety of settings for children and young people right across provisions: childminders, foster carers, residential children's homes, secure training centres, schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges are all inspected. Yet accommodation that falls within the category of 'other arrangements' is not subject to individual regulatory oversight. What makes this distinction all the more illogical is that the 22% of looked after 16 and 17 year olds who live in such accommodation are among the most vulnerable young people in society. It is unacceptable for these young people, still legally defined as 'children' and in the care of their local authority, to be housed in unregulated settings.

55. We recommend that the DfE consult on a framework of individual regulatory oversight for all accommodation provision that falls within the category 'other arrangements' to ensure suitability while allowing for continuing diversity of provision.

82   Department for Education (16P 29) para 28-30 Back

83   Department for Education, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers, October 2010, para 7.13 Back

84   The Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/2571), Schedule 2; see also Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/959), Schedule 6 Back

85   Q175 Back

86   Ofsted (16P 35) Back

87   Q171 Back

88   Ofsted (16P 37) para 8 Back

89   Ofsted (16P 37) para 12 Back

90   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.f Back

91   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.g Back

92   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.i Back

93   YMCA England (16P 20) para 2.1 Back

94   Ofsted (16P 35) para 10 Back

95   Findings are based on the 13 published inspection reports, as at 14 May 2014, conducted under the single inspection framework as well as five targeted inspections of services for looked after children carried out in the summer of 2013 Back

96   The Who Cares? Trust (16P 12) para 4.2 Back

97   Just for Kids Law Youth Ambassadors (16P 15) p 1 Back

98   Throughout this report 'alternative accommodation' will be used interchangeably with 'other arrangements'. Back

99   The hostel was on a site that had four hostels, two of which were staffed and two were not. Residents were placed in a staffed or unstaffed hostel based on an assessment of their needs. Back

100   The Coram Group (16P 24) para 14 Back

101   The British Association of Social Workers (16P 22) para 11  Back

102   The British Association of Social Workers (16P 22) para 11; see also St Christopher's Fellowship (16P 3) p 3 and The Coram Group (16P 24) para 9 Back

103   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.k Back

104   The Who Cares? Trust (16P 12) para 2.2 Back

105   Q23 Back

106   Q30 Back

107   Q34 Back

108   Q35 Back

109   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.m Back

110   Catch22 (16P 26) para 4.n Back

111   Qq116-117 Back

112   Q119 see also Q32 and Q33 Back

113   Ofsted (16P 35) para 12 Back

114   Ofsted (16P 35) para 15 Back

115   Q176 Back

116   Q174 Back

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Prepared 17 July 2014