Introducing national standards for unregulated provision

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Closes 19 Jul 2021


The Department for Education is seeking views on proposed national standards for independent and semi-independent ‘unregulated’ provision for looked after children and care leavers aged 16 and 17, and potential models for registering and inspecting them.  This builds on our consultation last year, through which over 70% of respondents supported the introduction of national standards and an Ofsted-led registration and inspection regime.

Looked after children and care leavers are often some of the most vulnerable children and young people in society, and we must work together to do all that we can to ensure that they have access to suitable, safe, and secure accommodation that can meet their needs and keep them safe.  For most children, this is best achieved through a placement in foster care or a children’s home, for which there are already robust approaches to approving, registering and quality-assuring provision. 

However, for some older children aged 16 or 17, a placement in independent or semi-independent living arrangements can be the best option to meet their needs, with the aim of supporting young people to develop their independence ahead of leaving the care system and embarking on adult life.  The Government is clear that this type of provision is not automatically the right choice for children aged 16 and 17 – where children of this age have needs that would best be met in a children’s home or foster care placement, that is where they should be placed.

We must ensure that there is a high-quality form of provision in the care system focussed on supporting older children to develop their independence.  This is becoming increasingly important as more older children come into the care system.  Local authorities are already required to check that provision is suitable and meets the needs of young people before placing them in independent and semi-independent provision, and many placements do this well.  However, the absence of national standards and independent regulation of this sector has led to inconsistencies in the quality of provision.  Providers do not currently operate to a shared set of expectations on quality of accommodation and support, and this can make it difficult for local authorities to choose the right provider to meet the needs of a young person, particularly in situations where decisions have to be made and placements have to be sourced quickly. 

We already set a high bar for the level of care that must be delivered in a children’s home or by a foster carer.  This gives both the provider and the commissioner of these placements confidence that placements are high quality.  We believe that we should pursue this for independent and semi-independent provision for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Introducing national standards and Ofsted-regulation for this provision would increase local authorities’ confidence in the quality assurance of placements, improve our ability to monitor and increase the quality of this provision and take action where it is not good enough, and crucially give our young people the high-quality support and accommodation that they deserve.

Any new regime, in whatever form, would represent major change for local authorities and providers.  We are committed to designing this regime in partnership with the sector and care experienced children and young people.  We recognise that there will be challenges as we embark on the regulation of a sector that has long been subject to more freedoms and flexibilities than the rest of the children’s social care system.  In some cases, this has led to local authorities and providers developing and delivering innovative packages of support for young people that responds to the changing needs of the population of looked after children and care leavers over time – we will want any new regime to foster this, learning from and building on the best that already exists.  This consultation invites input on this. 

However, as with any new regulatory regime, we are likely to see some changes in the makeup of this sector.  We are developing new quality standards to raise the bar for this provision – there will inevitably be some providers who do not wish to operate in the new system and, in turn, there will be others who welcome regulation and seek to expand their offer.  Through consultation with the sector, we must focus on getting the balance of this right.  We must be ambitious, and require the very best for our children and young people, while being measured and ensuring that standards and regulation are proportionate. 

Legal context – what are independent and semi-independent settings?

Local authorities have statutory duties to meet the needs of children they look after and to ensure that there is sufficient accommodation.  The Children Act 1989 sets out the ways in which looked after children and care leavers are to be accommodated and maintained by their local authority.  Local authorities place most of the children they look after in foster care or in a registered children’s home.  Local authorities can however place children in placements in accordance with ‘other arrangements’.  Where local authorities place children in other arrangements, they must ensure that they are suitable and meet the needs of the young person. 

Independent and semi-independent ‘unregulated’ placements are one type of setting that fall under ‘other arrangements’ placements – in practice, these are mostly settings that deliver accommodation with varying levels of support for the young people accommodated.  Many of the other settings that fall under ‘other arrangements’ are regulated in some way already – for example, residential special schools.  We expect to exempt these types of setting from any future new regulatory regime as they are already regulated through other programmes of inspection and monitoring. 

About this consultation

The Department for Education is consulting on proposals which will affect providers of independent and semi-independent provision for looked after children and care leavers aged 16 and 17, and local authorities placing children and young people in these settings.

The Department for Education is inviting views on:

  • The key indicators of whether a provider is delivering ‘care’ or ‘support’ to inform the development of stronger guidance on this as we begin to regulate independent and semi-independent provision. 
  • How best to define this provision in future and whether ‘supported accommodation for older children’ is the best descriptor. 
  • What the best provision in this sector looks like and therefore what needs to be accounted for in new national standards. 
  • A proposed suite of national standards, their impact, and the associated costs.
  • How settings should be regulated by Ofsted.

We will use the findings of this consultation to develop national standards and Ofsted-led registration and inspection of independent and semi-independent provision. 

This consultation will be open to the public for 8 weeks.

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