Teenage care leavers living on their own in caravans, boats and barges, says former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield

Former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said it is “absolutely crazy” that the Government wants to “legitimise” the practice of making teenage care leavers live on their own in caravans, boats and barges.
Former Children's Commissioner Anne LongfieldFormer Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield
Former Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield

Putting any care leaver who is under 18 in these forms of “completely inadequate” accommodation should be illegal, as children are often isolated and at risk of criminal and sexual exploitation, she said.

The Department of Education has stated it is “generally not appropriate” for councils to place 16 and 17 year olds in “mobile accommodation”, which is currently unregulated, but it should not be banned outright.

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Under a new proposal, the accommodation should be used in “limited and exceptional circumstances” and regulated to ensure it meets certain standards.

It added: “Provision which is not appropriately secure, isolates young people and is located such that a young person cannot access local services such as education and health, is very unlikely to be able to meet the quality standards.”

It is one of the proposed reforms – designed to improve the standard of accommodation used by children in care and care leavers – that are currently under consultation.

But Ms Longfield said it is an attempt to “legitimise the something that shouldn't be legal”.

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A growing number of children are being left in different types of unregulated accommodation, ranging from bedsits to boats, with little support, because there is a national shortage of places at children’s homes.

And Ms Longfield, from West Yorkshire, said some of the accommodation is well known to criminals who target young people in order to exploit them.

“Anyone who has any contact with vulnerable 16 or 17 year olds will know that it's completely inadequate,” she said.

“We know that they can be placed a long way from home and moved very often, which breaks down any kind of relationship or support network.

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"We are putting them somewhere where they don’t have care and don’t have support to finish school.”

She added: “We call them looked after children and we should look after them, even when they're 16 or 17 years old, because otherwise what's the point of putting them into care?”

“Is there anyone in Parliament who would put their 16 or 17-year-old into a bedsit with a few telephone numbers and someone dropping in now again?”

She said the Government should instead focus on creating more council-run children’s homes, to address the national shortage of places.

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Figures published last month show almost 7,500 teenagers are living in forms of unregulated accommodation and classed as independent or semi independent.

That is up from 6,080 the previous year, when the Government banned the use of unregulated accommodation for children under 16.

An investigation conducted by Sky News last year found that at least 86 local authorities were using unregulated accommodation.

It comes after a review, conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), found there is a chronic shortage of care home places for children across the country and this has led to “elevated prices” and “significant profits” for private providers.

Between 2016 and 2020, the average weekly price of care at a children’s home rose from £2,977 to £3,830, while profits increased from £702 to £910 per placement, per week.