Following on the recent cases of Re G (Young Person: Threat to Life: Unavailability of Secure Placement)  EWHC 2066 (Fam) and Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council v W and others  EWHC 1982 (Fam), Mrs Justice Knowles considered the position of accommodating 15-year-old children in unregulated accommodation in W (Young Person: Unavailability of Suitable Placement)  EWHC 2345 (Fam).
The case related to a 15-year-old girl, W, who was in psychological and emotional distress and was engaging in significant self-harming behaviour. She was deprived of her liberty in hospital after she was admitted following a serious attempt to harm herself, and remained detained after she was medically fit for discharge because her family did not feel able to care for her at home. Remaining in hospital was considered by all professionals to be detrimental to her, as was being sent to ‘secure accommodation’ or being admitted as a psychiatric inpatient, as she did not have any treatable mental illness.
W remained in hospital as the local authority searched hundreds of children’s homes without finding one which was able to help her. The local authority finally, and reluctantly, proposed a bespoke placement in short-term accommodation, with a provider which was not registered with Ofsted.
The court considered the challenges posed due to the lack of suitable placements for W:
The aim of the amendment is to ensure that looked after children under the age of 16 are only placed in children’s homes or foster care. Whilst there are obvious concerns about placing children in unregistered accommodation, it will be immediately apparent that finding or creating a bespoke placement for a young person who urgently needs care will be considerably harder following 9 September 2021.
I express no view as to whether the option identified at (b) above would be either practical or in accordance with the relevant regulations. What is the local authority to do if there is no secure accommodation available and no other appropriately regulated type of placement which might meet W’s needs? In Re T (see above), Lady Black – giving the lead judgment – stated that “if the local authority cannot apply for an order under section 25 because there is no section 25 compliant secure accommodation available, I would accept that the inherent jurisdiction can, and will have to be, used to fill that gap, without clashing impermissibly with the statutory scheme” (paragraph 141). Whether the inherent jurisdiction can fill the placement gap in W’s case once the 2021 Amendment Regulations come into force will be a matter for more detailed argument and consideration at the next hearing before me.
Arianna Kelly and Parishil Patel QCacted on behalf of the hospital trust.
You can read the full judgment here.