Regulation 10 of the Children’s Homes and Looked After Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2013 came into force on 27 January 2014 and introduced a requirement that children’s homes must carry out an annual review to ensure the premises are appropriately and suitably located to ensure that children are effectively safeguarded and able to access services to meet their needs (as identified in their care plans or placement plans).
When carrying out that review the registered person must consult, and take into account the views of such local bodies or persons as the registered person considers appropriate. This is likely to include the local authority in which the home is located as well as the local police force. Further guidance is to be issued by the Department for Education to ensure consistency across the country, however providers will be expected to assess any risks around the location of the home and put in place procedures to minimise those risks.
In the House of Commons Education Committee’s Sixth Report of Session 2013-14 on Residential Children’s Homes published on 11 March 2014, the Committee referenced an adjournment debate on planning guidance for children’s homes whereby Ann Coffey MP called for guidance on when it would be appropriate to refuse planning permission for a children’s home.
The Education Committee has identified three areas where by the planning system and residential children’s home may meet to control the locations of homes or the environments in which they are located.
- Preventing new homes from being set up in unsuitable locations;
- Preventing unsuitable facilities, such as bail hostels, from being set up in the vicinity of established children’s homes; and
- Controlling the conversions of dwelling houses into children’s homes that have been previously used for other purposes
Whilst planning laws may control the establishment of children’s home in the first place, what impact will the location risk reviews have on already established homes – ones that have been registered by Ofsted and obtained the necessary planning permissions? The Education Committee has stated that the risk assessments are “intended to assist in identifying where homes are in unsuitable or dangerous locations and preventing children being placed in such homes.”
This raises a whole number of questions – What is deemed unsuitable? What is deemed dangerous? If these are inherent, registration permissions should not have been granted in the first place. Surely it has to be considered with reference to the young people accommodated to ensure the child is at the centre of the care planning process. Risk assessments should be carried out for each individual child in any event and identified risks minimised. If such risks could not be sufficiently reduced then a home should not be admitting the young person in the first place, or if needs can no longer be met, notice being given on a placement.
For example, a home has been established for a number of years a few hundred metres from a railway line. One day, a child leaves the premises and gets on the railway line. No harm is done and the child’s risk assessment and policies and procedures are subsequently reviewed. Does the fact that the home is near a railway line (and has been since it was established) mean it is in an unsuitable location? Does the fact that one child leaves the premises and gets onto the railway line suggest the location is now unsuitable? Of course not. The location hasn’t changed. Reference must always be made to the young people accommodated or to be accommodated.
What happens if, having conducted a location risk review, a provider now deems its location to be unsuitable? Who should this be reported to? And what would then be done? It’s highly unlikely that a provider will deem its own location inherently unsuitable, so who will monitor the review? A provider is required to take into account the views of local bodies – the local authority and the police. What happens if the views of these bodies differ to that of the provider- whose view takes precedent? Would there be a conflict for a local authority who had granted planning permission for an “unsuitable facility” in the area who then turns to a children’s home and says it is no longer suitably located? What about a local police force who is called out to the home on a frequent basis. This is inconvenient and a drain on resources but could it say an increase in police call outs means young people are not effectively safeguarded and therefore the premises not suitably located? Again, the individual young person in a given location has to be looked at and what may be unsuitable for one young person may not be unsuitable for another.
It is not clear what a location review adds, over and above the existing regulations. Ofsted have a wide range of enforcement powers which can be engaged if a home is not meeting the needs of young people or placing them at risk including, ultimately, closure.
Without clear guidance being issued soon, a provision introduced to provide additional protection to young people may cause more upheaval if established providers are forced out of the market purely on the basis of their location.