When social workers are concerned that a young person poses a risk of serious harm to themselves, or to others, they may apply to Court for a Secure Accommodation Order.
This is a Court Order which allows the Local Authority to keep the young person in secure accommodation, in effect under lock and key, for a defined period.
A Secure Accommodation Order is one of the most extreme orders that a Court can make; restricting the liberty of a child in this way should be very much a last resort and only used where there is genuinely no safe alternative.
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What is Secure Accommodation?
Secure accommodation is defined in English law as any accommodation whose purpose is to “deprive a young person of their liberty” such that the young person is not free to leave if they choose.
There are about 60 secure units in Great Britain, in different parts of the country. Each unit provides accommodation for a number of young people, sometimes of mixed gender. Each young person would usually have their own room, with other facilities shared with the other residents. There is a high ratio of staff to residents, and high levels of supervision and control.
Secure units are generally equipped to provide the young people in their care with a range of services, including education, psychological support and targeted work to address the issues that led to the young person coming into secure accommodation in the first place.
When Can the Court Make a Secure Accommodation Order?
A Court can only make a Secure Accommodation Order in the following two situations:
- If the young person has a history of absconding (running away) and would be likely to run away if not placed in secure accommodation and if he/she did run away would be likely to suffer significant harm.
- If the young person was not kept in secure accommodation they would be likely to injure themselves, or others
“Running away” on its own would not be enough to justify an Order. The Court would have to be satisfied that the young person would be at risk of significant harm as well.
Secure accommodation is not about punishing the young person, but is for the purpose of protecting the young person or protecting others from the young person.
In urgent cases Local Authorities can keep a young person in secure accommodation for up to 72 hours without a Court Order. By the end of that period they must either obtain a Court Order, or allow the young person to leave.
Who Can be Placed Under a Secure Accommodation Order?
In theory a Secure Accommodation Order can be made for anyone under the age of 18. But certain restrictions apply:
- A Secure Accommodation Order can only be made if the child is “looked after” by the Local A In other words they must either be accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989or they must be in Local Authority care under a Care Order. The details of these rules vary slightly depending on the age of the young person in question.
- If the Local Authority wants to keep a child under 13 in secure accommodation (which would be very rare) they must first obtain the approval of the Secretary for State (i.e. the appropriate government minister).
How Long Does a Secure Accommodation Order Last?
When a Court is first asked to make a Secure Accommodation Order the Order can last for no longer than 3 months, although it could be for less time.
The Local Authority can go back to Court, if necessary, and ask the Court to extend the Secure Accommodation Order, up to a total maximum period of 6 months.
It is important to note that a Secure Accommodation Order allows the Local Authority to keep the young person in secure accommodation but it doesn’t require them to do so. During the time that a young person is in secure accommodation their situation should be kept under regular review, and they should not be kept there any longer than is absolutely necessary.
Within a month of a young person being placed in secure accommodation an independent review panel has to consider the circumstances of the young person, and whether they still need to be kept there. Reviews then have to take place at least every 3 months.
Can a young person have contact with family and friends while in secure accommodation?
The Local Authority has a duty to allow “reasonable contact” between a parent and a young person in their care. The Local Authority should consult with parents to help them decide how often contact should take place. It’s recognised that contact with parents, other family members and friends can be an important support to the young person and there would have to be very good reasons for refusing such contact.
As secure units are not evenly distributed across the country it is sadly often the case that the young person will be placed in a unit some distance from their home. In these cases the Local Authority should be able to provide support, including financial assistance, for a parent to continue to have regular contact visits.
If you are concerned about the level of contact between a young person and family members, or about support with the practical arrangements for visiting, our Care Proceedings Solicitors can advise you and take any necessary action, including, where appropriate, applying to Court for a Contact Order.
How Can We Help?
We can advise you on all aspects of secure accommodation and can represent you in Court if the Local Authority has made an application for a Secure Accommodation Order.
If you are a parent, or other person with Parental Responsibility, and if care proceedings are ongoing, you will be automatically entitled to Legal Aid to cover the costs of legal representation.
If care proceedings aren’t ongoing you may still be entitled to Legal Aid, depending on your financial circumstances. We can advise you about the availability of Legal Aid and make a Legal Aid application for you.
For free legal advice call our Care Proceedings Solicitors
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