William Eichler 10 February 2022

Number of vulnerable children in unregulated settings rises by 450%

Number of vulnerable children in unregulated settings rises by 450% image
Image: tanitost/Shutterstock.com.

The number of applications to deprive children of their liberty in unregulated placements such as caravans and holiday lets has risen dramatically over the last three years, new figures reveal.

The use of a ‘last resort’ measure by the High Court which allows it to deprive children of their liberty in unregulated settings when a place can’t be found elsewhere, has increased by 462% over the last three years, according to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

Children in England and Wales can be deprived of their liberty for welfare, youth justice or mental health reasons, and placed in secure children’s homes, young offender institutions, secure training centres or mental health in-patient wards.

When a place for a child cannot be found in any of these settings, the High Court can use the powers under its inherent jurisdiction to deprive the child of their liberty in an unregulated placement. This is generally done when the child’s needs are deemed too challenging or because there aren’t enough beds available

According to the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, in the three years to 2020/21 the number of applications made to the High Court to deprive children of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction increased from 108 to 579 per year – an increase of 462%.

In 2020/21 these applications outnumbered applications under s.25 of the Children Act 1989 (for places in secure children’s homes) for the first time.

Unlike children held in other settings, children deprived of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction don’t appear in published administrative data or records.

Lisa Harker, director of Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, stressed that this was a major cause for concern as there is no public record of where the children are placed, what restrictions are placed on their liberty, or their outcomes.

‘Something is clearly not working. The use of the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court is intended as a last resort, yet last year hundreds of children were deprived of their liberty in this way, often ending up in caravans or holiday lets without the properly regulated care they so desperately need,’ she said.

‘These are the most vulnerable children in our society, but at this point they simply disappear from view, with no data recording what happens to them. We need an urgent rethink about how we improve the lives of the most vulnerable children in our society, and to be clear about the purpose of depriving young people of their liberty.’

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