Placements in Secure Accommodation


This procedure applies to the placements of Children Looked After in secure accommodation on welfare grounds. 


Section 5, Use of Inherent Jurisdiction to Authorise a Placement Involving a Deprivation of Liberty was updated in December 2023 to include information from Guidance - Placing Children: Deprivation of Liberty Orders - guidance for providers, social workers and placement commissioners on placing children, subject to a deprivation of liberty order (DoL), in unregistered settings and President of the Family Division Practice Guidance: Placements in Unregistered Children's Homes in England or Unregistered Care Home Services in Wales.

1. Secure Accommodation Criteria

1.1 Placement on Welfare Grounds

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 sets out the 'welfare' criteria which must be met before a child Looked After by the local authority may be placed in secure accommodation. 

The 'Welfare' criteria are:

  • That the child has a history of absconding (see note below) and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation; and
  • If the child absconds, s/he is likely to suffer Significant Harm, or that;
  • If the child is kept in any other description of accommodation s/he is likely to injure her/himself or others.

The use of secure accommodation should be for the minimum period necessary, following an assessment of likely risk to the child, others and public safety.

A child must not continue to have his/her liberty restricted once the criteria cease to apply, even if there is a Court Order currently in existence.

The Director can approve such placements for up to 72 hours in an emergency. Only a Court can grant permission for placements beyond 72 hours.

A Child Looked After who meets the above criteria may be placed in secure accommodation for a maximum period of 72 hours in any 28 day period, without Court authority (except where the 72 hour period expires on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday when the period can be extended to the next working day).

A Court may authorise a child to be kept in secure accommodation for a maximum period of:

  • 3 months on the first application to the Court;
  • 6 months on subsequent applications to the Court.

A Child Looked After may not be placed in secure accommodation when:

  • Under the age of 13, unless the Secretary of State gives prior specific approval;
  • Over 16 and has asked to be accommodated;
  • Accommodation would be or is being provided on a voluntary basis and a parent objects to a secure placement.

2. Decision to Place in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds

2.1 Consultation

At the point that it is determined that a placement in secure accommodation on welfare grounds may be required, and throughout the subsequent process of identification, planning and placement, the social worker must consult and take account of the views of the following people:

  1. The child;
  2. The child's parents;
  3. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
  4. Other members of the child's family who are significant to the child;
  5. The child's school or education authority;
  6. The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
  7. The child's Independent Visitor if appointed;
  8. The Local Authority managing the Secure Accommodation in which the child is placed if that Authority is not the Authority with responsibility for looking after the child.

2.2 Approvals

Any decision to place a child in a secure placement on welfare grounds can only be made with the specific approval of the Director and, if made, must be notified to those consulted and the child's Independent Visitor. Where the child does not have an Independent Visitor, arrangements must be made for such an appointment as soon as practicable.

To seek the approval of the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation), the child's social worker must prepare a written report addressing the following areas:

  • Name, address, date of birth, ethnicity, school, names of those with parental responsibility;
  • Grounds/concerns/criteria/aims of proposed secure placement;
  • Evidence that the criteria are met;
  • What alternatives have been tried/considered and the outcomes;
  • The view of the child and the parents;
  • The comments of the Children's Social Care Manager.

The Director will only approve a request to place a child in secure accommodation where:

  • The Criteria for Secure Placements (as set out above) are met;
  • Secure accommodation is the only appropriate method of dealing with the child;
  • Alternatives have been comprehensively considered and rejected;
  • There is a clear view of the aims and objectives of such a placement.

Where the Director agrees that a secure placement on welfare grounds is appropriate, the social worker must contact Legal Services as a matter of urgency regarding the application for a Secure Accommodation Order. 

In relation to a child under 13, the approval of the Secretary of State will also be required and, after the approval of the Designated Manager Director has been obtained, a written request should immediately be sent to the Secretary of State containing the same information as in the report to the Designated Manager - see Section 2.4, Where the Secretary of State's Approval is Required.

2.3 Court Application

The child's social worker must liaise with Legal Services regarding the preparation of evidence to support the application including a Care Plan with the aims and objectives of the placement set out and details of the intended plan to return the child to open conditions.

The social worker should prepare the child for the Court hearing, by explaining the procedure and the possible outcomes, and by advising him or her of the right and supporting them to be legally represented at the hearing.

The social worker should also book a secure escort for the hearing.

Where the placement is required before there is time to obtain a Secure Accommodation Order, the Director can authorise the placement for up to 72 hours. Such a placement will be regarded as an Emergency Placement and the Emergency Placement Procedures - to follow must be followed.

2.4 Where the Secretary of State's Approval is Required

The case should first be discussed with the Department for Education Children Looked After Division Duty Officer. Some initial information will be taken over the phone, such as the name and date of birth of the child concerned, and written documentation will be requested. This should be submitted without delay, where possible, by e-mail or by fax.

This written documentation will include the following:

  • A full written history/chronology of the child and whether the child is with the local authority or absent;
  • A view of the likelihood that a court would find that the criteria for restriction of liberty are satisfied and an indication of when the local authority is intending to go to court to obtain a secure order;
  • An explanation of why secure accommodation is the only appropriate method of dealing with the child and whether a bed in secure children's home has been secured;
  • An indication of the alternatives to secure accommodation that have been considered and why these have been rejected;
  • The aims and objectives of the secure placement;
  • A copy of a contemporary Care Plan which includes a prospective exit strategy from secure accommodation; and
  • A written agreement - signed by the Director - to seek the Secretary of State's approval.

The Department for Education will discuss this information with appropriate inspectors at the Regulatory Authority, who will make a recommendation as to whether the Secretary of State's approval should be given.

The Department for Education will then consider and advise the local authority of the Secretary of State's decision.

Local authorities should ensure that, in order to expedite early decisions, applications for the Secretary of State's approval are made during office hours.

However, where in exceptional circumstances this is not possible, the local authority should telephone the Department for Education out of hours telephone number and ask for the Children Looked After Division Duty Officer.

3. Planned Placements

3.1 Definition of Planned Placement

A Planned Placement in secure accommodation is the placement of a Child Looked After following an assessment and planning process whereby, at the time of the placement, a Care Plan and Placement Plan are in place and a Secure Accommodation Order has been made.

All planned secure placements will have been discussed and be recommended by the Accommodation Panel and will be require the approval of the Director.

Where the placement is made with the authority of the Director but no Court Order, the placement is deemed to be an Emergency. 

See Emergency Placement Procedures - to follow.

The planning, review, supervision and contact requirements in respect of the child in secure accommodation are the same as those for any other child Looked After.

3.2 Placement Request and Identification

Where the child's social worker considers that a child requires a secure placement, the procedure for obtaining a placement is the same as for all residential placements.

3.3 Placement Planning

Each secure unit will have its own placement planning procedure and therefore the social worker should liaise direct with the provider to establish this.

Before the child is placed, the child's social worker will liaise with the manager of the home to arrange a Placement Planning Meeting. If this is not possible prior to the placement, it must take place within 24 hours of the placement.

The child, parents and any other significant family members and relevant professionals should also be invited. 

The purpose of the meeting is to share information about the child and the Care Plan, complete/update the necessary documentation about the child plan the timing of the placement and ensure that a Placement Plan recorded is drawn up.

The Placement Plan and associated arrangements should cover the same issues as those for a child placed in residential care.

Following the meeting, the child's social worker will complete and arrange for the circulation of the RIR and Care Plan to the child, parents, IRO and home manager. The child's social worker and manager of the home will arrange for the Placement Plan recorded to be drawn up.

The social worker should ensure that any Children's Guide, accommodation pack or other information about the placement that is available for the child is obtained and given to him/her.

The social worker must also ensure that the child is provided with information on using the authority's Complaints Procedure.

In all cases, the child should be accompanied to the placement by the social worker and helped to settle in.

3.4 Notification of Placement

The child's social worker will notify the LAC Nurse, the Educational Support Team and the child's GP. If the placement is outside the Borough, the administrative staff must also notify the Children's Social Care Services and the local education service for the area where the child is placed.

The notifications must advise of the placement decision, the name and address of the new carers, details relating to the child's contact with parents and the arrangements related to the care and welfare of the child.

Notification of the placement must also be sent by the child's social worker to all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process. The notification should be before the start of the placement or within 5 working days.

The social worker must also ensure that the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician; and that a Health Care Assessment takes place as necessary.

The social worker must also confirm the placement within 24 hours by e-mail to the Designated Manager (Secure Accommodation). 

The Administrative staff must also notify the child's Independent Reviewing Officer, and make arrangements for a review meeting within 28 days - see Secure Accommodation (Criteria) Reviews Procedure - to follow.

4. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements

4.1 Support and Monitoring of Placements

The child's social worker must visit the child in the placement within one week of the placement and then at every six weeks; see procedures in Social Worker Visits to Children Looked After Procedure.

4.2 Ending of Placements

The social worker must update ICS and inform the Commissioning Manager that the placement has ended to ensure that the placement fees cease.

5. Use of Inherent Jurisdiction to Authorise a Placement Involving a Deprivation of Liberty

The Supreme Court has held that the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court can be used to authorise the placement of a child where the prescribed statutory requirements cannot be met and there is no practical alternative but to place the child in other accommodation.

In this situation, legal advice must be sought as a matter of urgency.

Where a local authority cannot apply for a Secure Accommodation Order under section 25 Children Act 1989 because one or more of the relevant criteria are not satisfied, it may be able to apply for leave to apply for an order depriving the child of liberty under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if the order is not granted (s.100 (4)) Children Act 1989).

It may be that section 25 does not apply because the criteria set out in section 25(1)(a) and (b) are not met.  For example, a child who has no history, so far, of absconding, and who is not likely actually to injure themselves or anyone else, so does not satisfy section 25(1)(a) or (b), but who, for other good reasons to do with their own welfare, needs to be kept in confined circumstances.

Section 25 may not apply where the application is to place a child into accommodation which is not classed as 'secure accommodation' for the purposes of section 25, not being registered as such.

When considering an application under its inherent jurisdiction, the High Court must have the child's welfare as the paramount consideration and undertake a welfare evaluation to determine whether the deprivation of liberty proposed by the local authority is in the child's best interests, always having firmly in mind that the intervention must be both a necessary and proportionate response to the need to protect the child from the harm to which they would be exposed were the declaration not made.

From April 2023, supported accommodation settings for 16 and 17 year olds are required to be registered with Ofsted in accordance with the Supported Accommodation (England) Regulations 2023.

Additional information to be taken into account by a court asked to authorise the confinement of a child in an unregulated placement, when the circumstances would meet the terms of section 25 Children Act 1989 were it not for the absence of an authorised registered placement, is set out in Practice Guidance: Placements in Unregistered Children's Homes in England or Unregistered Care Home Services in Wales.

This guidance sets out 'best practice' to be followed:

  • When making an application to the court for an order under its inherent jurisdiction to authorise the deprivation of the liberty of a child, the applicant should make the court explicitly aware of the registration status of those providing or seeking to provide, the care and accommodation for the child;
  • If not registered, the Court should be made aware of the reasons why registration is not required;
  • If registration is not required, the applicant must make the court aware of the steps it is taking to ensure that the premises and support being provided are safe and suitable for the child accommodated. If care rather than support is being provided, then the provision is likely to require registration as a children's home;

    A children's home is a setting in England that provides care and accommodation, 'wholly or mainly' for children.
    A care home service is a setting in Wales that provides care and accommodation to a child because of their vulnerability or need.
    Children's homes must be registered with Ofsted and a care home service must be registered with the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW).

  • If registration is required but has not yet been obtained, the court will need to be satisfied that steps are being taken to apply for the necessary registration. The court will wish to assure itself that the provider of the service has confirmed that they can meet the needs of the child. In addition, the court will need to be informed by the local authority of the steps the local authority is taking in the meantime to assure itself that the premises, those working at the premises and the care being given are safe and suitable for the accommodated child.  Where an application for registration has been submitted to Ofsted (CIW in Wales), the court should be made aware of the exact status of that application.

Guidance - Placing Children: Deprivation of Liberty Orders - guidance for providers, social workers and placement commissioners on placing children, subject to a deprivation of liberty order (DoL), in unregistered settings (which should be read alongside the President of the Family Division Practice Guidance: Placements in Unregistered Children's Homes in England or Unregistered Care Home Services in Wales), provides that:

A local authority placing a child should check whether the placement is registered with Ofsted in England or CIW In Wales.

It is a legal requirement that:

  • A children's home in England registers with Ofsted;
  • A care home service in Wales registers with the CIW.

It is an offence to operate or manage a children's home or care home service placement if you are not registered.

An unregistered provider providing a placement for a child with a deprivation of liberty must:

  • Register with Ofsted or CIW immediately - it is an offence to operate without registration.

Private providers must:

  • Inform the local authority who has placed the child about the steps taken to register;
  • Keep the local authority informed of the progress of the registration application at all times - the registration status may be used by the court when making decisions on continuing the deprivation of liberty.

Application for registration can be made through Ofsted's 'priority application' process Registering Children's Homes in an Emergency: Priority Applications or through the CIW's online application process in Wales.

Where a local authority has placed a child in an unregistered setting, Ofsted/CIW will keep the local authority informed about any relevant application to register received. Local authorities can also contact the local Senior His Majesty's Inspector (SHMI) or regulatory inspection manager to ask for an update. In Wales they can contact CIW's registration team for advice and support.

The High Court held in MBC v AM & Ors (DOL Orders for Children Under 16) [2021] EWHC 2472 (Fam) that it remained open to the High Court to authorise, under its inherent jurisdiction, the deprivation of liberty of a child under the age of 16 in 'other arrangements' such as supported accommodation notwithstanding the ban on placement of children under the age of 16 in such accommodation under the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. The Court stressed the requirement for rigorous application of the President's Guidance.

The High Court subsequently held (Derby CC v CK & Ors (Compliance with DOL Practice Guidance) (Rev1) [2021] EWHC 2931 (Fam)) that the court should not ordinarily countenance the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction where an unregistered placement makes clear that it will not or cannot comply with the requirement of the Practice Guidance to apply expeditiously for registration as mandated by law.

The High Court stated in the case of In the Matter of Child J [2020] EWHC 2395 (Fam)

'The secure accommodation procedures provide important protections for children confined in such institutions. In my judgment, a placement that does not provide those same protections should only be authorised when absolutely necessary. Sadly, at the current time when there is a significant gap between registered secure accommodation provision and registered secure accommodation need, unregistered placements are often absolutely necessary'.