A ban on placing vulnerable children under the age of 16 into unregulated accommodation has been welcomed by police and partners across Bedfordshire.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the change on Friday, February 19, 2021, as part of a series of reforms to drive up standards in children’s social care and help to ensure the most vulnerable are cared for in settings that best meet their needs.
The announcement follows concerns being raised by partners across Bedfordshire.
This included Assistant Chief Constable Jackie Sebire speaking out about the risk of teenagers placed in unregulated homes being exploited by organised crime gangs, as part of a BBC Newsnight special in May 2019.
MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous then highlighted the issue in an Adjournment Debate in Parliament.
That sparked a national consultation which Bedfordshire Police, the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, and the three unitary authorities of Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council and Luton Council provided a joint response to last year.
The regulations have been laid in Parliament (Friday, February 19, 2021) for the ban to come into force in September.
It also included a pledge to create more places in children’s homes, backed by additional investment, building on the £24 million announced at the Spending Review and recognising that there are pressures on some local authorities to find the right placement for a child.
There are around 5,000 looked after children in England currently placed in 16+ supported or semi-supported accommodation.
ACC Sebire said: “I’m delighted that Government has recognised this deeply concerning issue which has put some of the most vulnerable children at risk of exploitation and abuse.
“These changes will make a real difference to young people and I look forward to this new legislation being brought in and put into action.”
Mr Selous said: “I am delighted to see that this government has taken action on an issue which I have been campaigning on with Bedfordshire Police for several years now. I will continue to press the government to make sure that provision for children over 16 years old is of a good standard and properly regulated.”
Cllr Sue Clark, Executive Member for Families, Education and Children at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “Our Children’s Services team has worked tirelessly over the past four years to raise awareness around this issue, in order to ensure that under 16s are provided with safe and secure accommodation.
“We are delighted that the government are now offering enhanced protection to young people across the country.
“I’d also like to thank Andrew Selous MP and ACC Jackie Sebire for their support on this; they have helped us champion this cause and we’re very grateful for their input.”
Cllr Mahmood Hussain, portfolio holder for children and families in Luton, added: “I am very pleased that the government has listened to us and is taking steps to create much needed regulation to ensure our young people can be appropriately safeguarded.
“In Luton, we have been deeply concerned about the current lack of regulation and have worked hard with our partners and providers to ensure we apply rigorous quality standards to the provision we commission in which to place our care leavers. We are committed to ensuring that vulnerable young people are not placed in unsuitable accommodation and will wholeheartedly welcome this new legislation when it comes into force.”