New research suggests the secure children’s home system fails the most vulnerable children

03 December 2020

Two out of every five young people referred to secure children’s homes (SCHs) for welfare reasons were not offered a place, reveals new research conducted by CASCADE Cardiff University for What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC), published today. The study raises serious concerns about the capacity of current services to meet the needs of this vulnerable group of young people.

Today’s report, the first of its kind, uses Department for Education data to build a clearer image of the lives of young people referred to SCHs and the differences between those offered a place and those who were instead placed in “alternative accommodation” (which includes less secure residential children’s homes, foster care and unregulated placements). It reveals a system unable to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

SCHs provide accommodation and care for the young people most at risk of causing harm to themselves or others but our findings suggest that many of the young people with the most complex needs are the least likely to be offered a place.

The current system is particularly failing older boys with challenging behaviours. Young people linked to previous offending, gang association and sexually harming behaviours in the years immediately before referral were more likely to be refused a SCH place. Given that this group were then twice as likely to go to a youth offending institute, prison or a SCH at some point in the year after referral, the report shows the urgent need to review how we  support these young people.

The report draws attention to the adverse experiences of young people before and after they are referred to a SCH. It is an unsettling picture. Nearly two thirds (62.7%) of young people placed in SCHs were victims of sexual exploitation. The  forthcoming Care Review must explore the support provided to these children.

With young people, on average, experiencing three new placements in the year after the referral to SCH, there is an urgent need for larger scale, longer term research that allows us to identify the effects of secure and alternative accommodation, and to understand what approaches might produce better results.

Michael Sanders, Chief Executive, What Works for Children’s Social Care, said:

“This research from Cardiff University shines a light into the little understood world of secure accommodation. I’m saddened to see such poor outcomes for young people referred to secure children’s homes – whether they find a place or not – and will work with colleagues across the sector to see how we can help. ”