To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the effect of recent trends in the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children under the care of Portsmouth City Council being housed in unregulated care homes on the (a) well-being, (b) integration and (c) safety of those children.
18 March 2020
Every child growing up in care should have a safe and secure environment where they feel supported. Local authorities are required by the law to ensure that they meet the needs of their looked-after children, and they must ensure that care placements facilitate this.
Independent and semi-independent (unregulated) settings can play an important role in the care system in meeting the needs of older children, acting as a stepping stone towards independence and adult life.
Such placements have benefited young people in Portsmouth, where one of the 8 Staying Close pilots is in place. The department has issued £1.6 million in the last two years to the 8 existing pilots, and has agreed a further £6 million for the next year to begin a national rollout. The Staying Close pilot in Portsmouth is supporting unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) care leavers to move towards independence by providing additional support in semi-independent living arrangements.
Through the safeguarding strategy for UASC, we are also committed to developing resources to support the recruitment of supported lodging hosts as a form of semi-independent accommodation. This will ensure that we continue to support local authorities to find the most appropriate placements to meet the needs of UASC.
While independent and semi-independent settings do form an important part of the care landscape, in meeting the needs of older children who are ready for this, we have made clear that we are concerned that the quality is not always good enough. We are particularly concerned about the number of children under the age of 16 being placed in this provision. It is unacceptable for any child to be placed in a setting that does not meet their needs for any amount of time.
We are moving quickly to take action on these issues, and have launched a consultation on reforms to the use of independent and semi-independent provision. The consultation covers proposals including banning the placement of children under 16 in this provision and introducing new mandatory quality standards.